Don’t live here; can’t vote here
If a precedent is needed for giving nonresident property owners in Vail a vote, it’s not coming from Telluride. Last week, by an overwhelming majority – 613 to 220 – voters in that mountain resort town in southwestern Colorado said “no” to Question B, which sought to allow anyone who owns property but doesn’t necessarily live in town full time to cast a ballot in a local election.
“It died on the vine,” Emily Dresslar, editor of the town’s newspaper, the Daily Planet, says of Question B. “Most people here believe if you live here and spend your time here, you should be able to vote. But we even had second-home owners who asked why should somebody who doesn’t live here even expect to vote? This didn’t cause a big stir.”
The full-time population of Telluride is estimated at 1,985. In high season, the number of regulars plus “guests” can reach more than 10,000. The estimated size of the local active voting population, according to the town clerk’s office, is about 1,200.
That’s similar to Vail, where the U.S. Census in 2000 reported 4,531 full-time residents, and 1,111 of them voted on Tuesday. The census reported that an estimated 3,000 people are part-time Vail residents, and a recent regional study showed about 70 percent of homes in Vail are owned by residents who live a significant part of their lives somewhere else in the world.
By contrast, there’s a community near Telluride that does allow property owners a vote. The town of Mountain Village, a private community literally on the ski mountain above Telluride, was incorporated in 1995 as a home-rule municipality where the founders voted 30-17 to approve a town charter that allows property owners to vote. Property owners there can vote on council members and other ballot items specific to Mountain Village.
Telluride’s outgoing mayor, John Steel, says he has fought “vigorously” against allowing such a thing in his town. It becomes particularly problematic when the property owners are not eligible to vote in state or general elections, or even are citizens of another country, he says.
“No question it’s wrong. You shouldn’t be able to sell a vote with a property,” says Steel, a member of the Telluride Town Council for seven years. “Realtors love that because they can tell prospective purchasers they’ll be able to vote.”
Over the years, Steel says, he’s filed numerous lawsuits in District Court, with judges reasoning that since Mountain Village is more a homeowners association than a real town, owners of property can vote on issues specific their community.
If an established town in Colorado were to pass such a measure, however, Steel says, it would meet a far different fate.
“Mountain Village escaped judicial sanctions because it was very special-interest,” Steel says. “If Vail, Aspen or even Telluride retroactively passed something like this, it wouldn’t pass scrutiny.”
“Change the political landscape’
Jim Lamont speaks for many nonresident property owners in Vail as executive director of the Vail Village Homeowners Association. He says the debate really should be between property owners and “transient voters,” or those who can move to a town for a seasonal job and register to vote with no problem.
“They have more say over tax issues than the property owners, who pay most of the taxes. Basically, the seasonal voter benefits from services without paying for them,” says Lamont. “But the knee-jerk reaction is prejudiced against the second-home owners, who sustain the economy more than anybody realizes.”
Lamont says his organization recommends that members from out of town, for voting purposes, simply change their residency to Vail. That way, they could have a lot more say on local issues – although they would give up their say over local, and even state issues, back home.
“If they’re so interested in Vail, they should change their residence to Vail,” Lamont says. “Eventually, we’ll get past the petty prejudice, and that will change the political landscape.”
Of the 7,469 residential and commercial property owners in Vail:
– 286 have addresses elsewhere in Eagle County.
– 4,439 live in elsewhere in Colorado.
– 2,830 live elsewhere in the United States.
– 200 live in other countries.
– Of 6,671 residential properties in Vail, 4,639 have owners with addresses out of town.
– Of 479 commercial properties in Vail, 147 have owners with mailing addresses outside of town.
– Source: Eagle County Assessor’s Office
One of the principal backers of the Question B, Beverly McTigue, did a hand count of all the Telluride property owners listed with out-of-town addresses in August, coming up with 612.
But McTigue’s list also included 306 joint-owned properties which, because of the 50 percent ownership allowance in the question, she decided had to be counted as adding two potential voters each – doubling her estimate to about 1,200.
If McTigue’s estimate is correct and each potential added voter were to take advantage of a right to vote, the size of Telluride’s electorate would essentially double. But McTigue said that her estimate is a high-end guess, representing the maximum number of voters who could be added, and voting trends suggest that nowhere near that many would cast ballots if given the chance.
Census figures from 2000, for instance, show that only 361 of the approximately 1,000 occupied units in Telluride are owner-occupied (the rest are filled by renters), while 726 of the 925 vacant housing units in town are listed as “for seasonal, recreational or occasional use.”
– Telluride Daily Planet