Key races hinge on about 400 votes
Eagle County’s state representative in Denver, the envisioned Lionshead conference center, a valley open-space tax and a seat on the Avon Town Council hinge on “provisional” ballots cast by voters whose names didn’t appear on the rolls at polling places.
“I am never comfortable until the last vote is counted,” says Rep. Carl Miller, D-Leadville. “But I certainly believe in integrity of the system.”
Miller leads Eagle-Vail resident Heather Lemon by 330 votes for the District 56 seat in the state House of Representatives. The newly-drawn district comprises Eagle, Summit and Lake counties.
“I’ve moved on already,” Lemon says. “He’s ahead by about 300 votes and there’s only about 300 ballots to count, which means I’d have to get all of them.”
The longer the counting takes, the less chance there is the results in any of the close races will change, she says.
“The way I look at it is the more ballots they throw out, the less likely it is anything is going to change,” Lemon says.
Miller and others have complained the provisional ballots are unnecessarily holding up final results of the election. It has taken the Eagle County Clerk and Recorder’s Office more than a week to verify signatures and addresses of voters who cast the provisional ballots.
“The quicker you get results, the better it is for everyone involved – the winners, the losers, the parties and the people in general,” Miller says. “I think provisional ballots should probably should be fine tuned. They’re here to stay, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see some legislation to fine tune them a little bit more.”
Eagle County Clerk and Recorder Sara Fisher said Wednesday the judges counted 373 provisional ballots and 12 absentee ballots.
“Judges were unable to count 16 of the provisional ballots since we could not certify those voters’ eligibility,” Fisher said. “A bi-partisan team of provisional ballot judges counted the provisional ballots today. As required by state election law, we will release the results to the canvass board for certification. State law prohibits unofficial release of the results of the provisional ballot count.”
A series of tax increases in Vail could swing either way on a little more than 90 provisional ballots. A sales and lodging tax increase to fund a $46 million conference center is Lionshead is leading by just 23 votes –804 votes for, 881 against. A property-tax increase to pay for street repairs and renovations was losing by 61 votes –758 votes for and 819 against.
“We’re used to having immediate results, but I think this is probably going to be the wave of the future,” Vail Town Manager Bob McLaurin says. “If I could predict the future, I wouldn’t be working here, but my guess is both of those will stay the same.”
The increase in property tax revenues is meant to help Vail Village and Lionshead keep up with hundreds of millions of dollars in renovations planned by private property owners, including Vail Resorts.
Vail Town Councilman Chuck Ogilby says if the results don’t change in favor of the property tax, the spending cuts the town may have to make in coming months will irritate residents.
“I think the community will be hard on us if we have to make some severe cuts. They’ll also be mad at us if we spend money in ways they think we shouldn’t,” Ogilby says. “They’re going to be tough on us when the budget gets really, really tight. Everybody thinks we should be spending on them and we won’t be.”
But unfavorable results don’t necessarily mean the end of property-tax increases, he says.
“In order to get such an ambitious capital campaign done, we’re going to have to have more money,” Ogibly says. “I would hope we can reconfigure a tax initiative for next November that would be more palatable. Maybe we put a cap on it. Maybe it’s a five-year deal where we get it rebuilt and hope sales tax are back in place.”
The tightest race waiting to be resolved today is the Eagle County open space tax, which was losing by two votes when votes were counted election night. There are 5,454 votes in favor and 5,456 against.
The proposed property tax increase would create a fund to buy open space near residential areas. Supporters are “guardedly optimistic” the provisional ballots will put the tax over the top, says Tom Steinberg, president of the Eagle Valley Land Trust.
“It was doing well until the absentee ballots were counted,” Steinberg says. “There are a significant number of part-time residents who vote here and this is just a tax issue so they vote against it.
“They have no idea what issues are,” he adds. “They’re not privy to the discussions and news articles.”
Assuming the provisional ballots were cast by people who live in the valley and probably don’t own property, there’s a good chance those voters favored the open space tax, Steinberg says.
While a change is unlikely in the race for Avon Town Council, the candidate who wins the fourth and final open seat may be effected by the provisional ballots. Incumbent Councilwoman Debbie Buckley holds the seat by 14 votes over challenger Rene Martinez. Martinez was the first Hispanic to run for office in Avon. He nad his supporters spent more than $4,000 on his campaign – that’s twice as much as any of the other candidates.
But only a small amount of the 400 or outstanding votes were cast in the Avon race, which makes a significant change in the results today unlikely.
“I’m trying not to think about it at all,” Buckley says. “I’ve got an awful lot of things I’m ready to start working on.”
The delay is aggravating, Buckley says, but allowing as many eligible voters as possible to cast ballots is not.
“It’s important that everyone exercises their right to vote who can,” she says. “I’m not going to criticize that. That’s important.”
Fisher, meanwhile, will present results of the tabulation of 373 provisional ballots to the County Canvass Board at a meeting today at 10 a.m. at the Eagle County Administrative Building. The board will certify election results, including the need for any recounts.
Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.