Gypsum postpones municipal election until July 7
COVID-19 concerns with town's polling place vote spurred decision
GYPSUM — Voters in the town of Gypsum won’t be heading to the polls on April 7 after all.
Gypsum’s municipal election has been postponed until July 7, and COVID-19 is the reason why.
Gypsum was planning to conduct its municipal election in just over a week and voters were slated to select three council members from a slate of seven candidates, consider an $80,000 donation to the Sweetwater Lake open space campaign and vote on a series of Gypsum Home Rule Charter revisions. But COVID-19 shattered that plan. The election has been pushed back three months and it will be conducted by mail-in ballot.
With COVID-19 precautions limiting gatherings to no more than 10 persons, Gypsum’s polling place election seemed like an ill-advised idea, said Gypsum Town Manager Jeremy Rietmann. He noted officials from the state of Colorado offered some sobering statistics.
“They said the Gypsum polling place election had potential to expose more voters to COVID-19 than any other municipal election in Colorado scheduled on April 7,” Rietmann said. “The reason was Gypsum is the 13th-largest municipality planning an election on April 7 and we were the largest municipality in the state planning a polling place election.”
‘Protect life and public health’
If Gypsum were a statuary town, it would have been difficult to make the election postponement call. However, Gypsum is a home rule municipality and its charter allows the mayor to “protect life and public health in the case of an extraordinary emergency.”
Gypsum Mayor Steve Carver executed a March 18 order declaring a local disaster emergency in and for the town of Gypsum in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This administrative procedure, authorized by the Town of Gypsum Home Rule Charter and the Colorado Disaster Emergency Act, allows for actions by the local government to implement necessary prevention, preparation, and response needs in its jurisdiction during an emergency.
“The postponement decision came after the mayor and I discussed that this action is the right thing to do during this pandemic,” Rietmann said. “Our goal in making this decision is to protect voter’s health and to adhere to the intent of Eagle County’s March 18 Public Health Order, while ensuring that town voters can exercise their voting rights without fear for their health.”
For the next 90 days, the current town board members will continue to serve in their posts. Rietmann says he spoke with each of the seven candidates currently running for the three contested council seats and all of the candidates agreed this is the right decision for the community.
The town of Gypsum cited the following rationale to postpone the election and change the format from a polling place to mail-in ballot:
- All available county, state, and federal messages currently urge strict social distancing practices.
- Eagle County’s March 18, 2020, public health order limits most activities to 10 or fewer people to achieve adequate social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the community.
- A mail ballot format will ensure that all eligible electors will receive a ballot by mail and be able to return it by mail, which may increase voter turnout by reducing the amount of person-to-person contact in the voting process.
- Many election judges that may be used by Gypsum are considered to be people who are most “at-risk” of contracting and experiencing complications with this illness.
- No matter the polling place set up, voter queuing and sequencing, and the sanitation procedures put in place, the risk of contributing to the spread of COVID-19 remains largely unknowable given so little is known about the disease right now.
- Given the current growth trends in illness transmission, many more people, including town election personnel and voters, could be sick by election day, risking the town’s ability to run a sound election process.
- Moving the election out roughly 90 days and converting it to a mail-in election will create the best opportunity to ensure everyone can participate in the municipal election safely and without fear of coming to the polls.
Carver said the bottom line for the decision is the town wants to ensure residents’ safety and conduct an above-board election that encourages participation.
“We’re going to hold our election and we want everybody to be able to participate,” said Carver.
Beginning this week, and continuing until the COVID-19 outreach is contained, Gypsum Town Council meetings will be conducted as call-in sessions. Meetings will continue on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month and will begin at 7 p.m. Members of the public will be provided with the call-in number prior to each session if they wish to monitor or participate in the proceedings.
“The audience on the phone line may listen to the council meeting and discussion as if sitting in the audience in the council chambers but will be on mute while the town council discusses agenda items. The audience will be unmuted, when and if, certain agenda items are open to public comment,” said Jim Hancock, the assistant town manager.
“We hope to move to a full video conference option in the future. However, after extensive testing, we found that the extra internet bandwidth being used by the community right now is creating video lag and delay problems that will distract and limit the quality of our discussion at a time when it is needed,” Hancock said.