Vail Daily column: Go to mail-in ballots
Ryan Summerlin August 8, 2014
Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from the Vail Homeowners Association monthly report. We publish weekly excerpts from the association, which keeps a close eye on economic and political trends in and outside of the town. The newsletter electronic version with links to supporting documents is available at www.vailhomeowners.com.
Mail-in ballots were a success in the last election. It’s sometimes hard to learn much from election results but the May elections in the three separate special taxing districts that provide Vail with water and sewer services (the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District), recreation facilities (Vail Recreation District) and ambulance services (Eagle County Health Service District) show that mail-in ballots resulted in increased voter participation. Prior to these elections, except for a few instances of coordinated elections with Eagle County, all three special districts used the traditional walk-in polling places/voter requested absentee ballot system. For the 2014 elections, Vail Recreation District and Eagle County Health Service District continued with that same system but the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District used a “mail ballot” for the first time. This was required by law since their ballot measures would affect tax rates for property owners. The district mailed ballots to all registered voters within their district boundaries and to individuals owning taxable property within their boundaries who were registered to vote in Colorado. Reflected below is data available on the voter turnout over the past 10 years for the town of Vail and the three special districts listed above.
Participation in the 2014 Eagle River Water and Sanitation District election jumped by 402.11 percent. While some of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District increase might be attributable to get-out-the-vote efforts by Vail Homeowners Association and others, as well as voter interest in the issues (Eagle River Water and Sanitation District proposed bond authorizations for construction of new facilities), it seems clear that the convenience of a mail-in ballot was a large factor in the increased turnout. That conclusion is backed up by the results of the town of Vail 2012 elections in which the town also used mail-in ballots as part of a coordinated election with Eagle County and voter participation leaped to 58.61 percent of registered voters. The Eagle River Water and Sanitation District is to be commended for their execution of the mail-ballot requirement for their 2014 election and the corresponding increase in voter turnout. Vail Homeowners Association encourages the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, the town of Vail and all other special districts in the area to use the mail-ballot system permanently.
The minority rules. While the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District substantially boosted its rate of voter participation, it did not come close to a majority. There were 2,852 votes cast in the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District 2014 election out of 15,094 eligible electors who were mailed ballots, for an 18.89 percent participation rate. That is still significant minority rule, which seems to be a feature of governance throughout Vail. For example, with the exception of 2012, when the town of Vail used a mail-in ballot, voter participation in the town of Vail elections has been on the decline even as the number of registered voters has been steadily increasing. In the town of Vail 2013 elections, voter participation was only 19.52 percent (831 votes cast out of 4,257 registered voters). While this rate is similar to the 2014 Eagle River Water and Sanitation District rate, a town municipal election should normally have much higher participation rates than those for special taxing districts.
Voter participation for the 2014 Vail Recreation District election was even lower with a meager 8.43 percent rate (374 votes cast out of 4,435). But the voter participation for the 2014 Eagle County Health Service District election was almost nonexistent at less than 1 percent (0.54 percent, or only 149 votes cast out of 27,606 voters registered in the district). Unlike the town of Vail municipal election, individuals registered to vote in Colorado, and their spouses or civil union partners, are eligible to vote in any of the state’s special district elections where they own taxable property under their individual name (not under a corporation, partnership, trust, etc.). Nonetheless, participation remains low. The voting rates are so small that they should spur the governing authorities to take action to educate voters and encourage public participation in the governance of the community.
Minority control enables special interests to dominate governance. Both the 2014 Vail Recreation District and the Eagle County Health Service District elections were controlled by a handful of voters (374 and 149, respectively). Special interests may have already taken control of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District. If participation rates continue to drop, then entities like the Eagle County Health Service District and Vail Recreation District run the risk of becoming so moribund that they could be candidates for dissolution. A more engaged and active electorate would make for sounder government. It seems clear to the Vail Homeowners Association that mail-in ballots should be adopted for all Vail area elections, including the town of Vail. That would greatly increase voter participation.
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