Mail-in ballots are better
July 3, 2015
Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from the Vail Homeowners Association Newsletter. The association keeps a close eye on economic and political trends in and outside of the Vail community. The electronic version with links to supporting documents is available at http://www.vailhomeowners.com.
The town clerk reported in April to the council that Vail voters who wish to vote by absentee ballot no longer must request a ballot for each town poll election. Now, when a voter requests an absentee ballot, they can sign up to be included on a list of voters who will automatically be sent an absentee ballot for town poll elections. This feature was replaced by the state Legislature after having been previously removed. Voters will still need, only for the upcoming election, to obtain an absentee ballot request form, and then they can check the box which will place them on the automatic send absentee ballot list for future elections.
This reinstallation of the permanent absentee ballot voter list is a nod to the importance of mail balloting, which has been shown to increase voter participation rates in local elections. Vail's voter participation rate has been in steady decline for several years, as was reported by the Vail Homeowners Association last August. This trend was not identified in the town clerk's report or discussed by the Town Council in its consideration of the voting method at this year's upcoming council election. The Homeowners Association advocates mail balloting for all Vail elections.
To some elected officials it was more important to be seen standing outside the polls waving to voters as they go to vote than having more time to go door to door and have face-to-face or social media interchanges with them. Mail-in balloting would begin the nominating and campaigning process five weeks earlier than would poll voting. Voting would begin 10 days earlier.
Given the complexity of the issues before the community, the electorate should be given more time to consider what the important issues are and to assess each candidate's agenda and position on those issues. Perhaps the time is coming for candidates standing for election to consider that waving to the voters is less important than actually communicating with them.
The town of Vail's existing election process favors incumbents, as can be shown by the high percentage of previously serving councilpersons being returned to elected or appointed office in recent elections. The trend of cycling former councilpersons and political appointees through influential boards and commissions does not encourage diversity or incent new participants to enter public service. Likewise, there is the appearance of conflict of interests when council members serve on the boards of nonprofit organizations that receive town funding. Perhaps the longer nominating and electioneering process of mail balloting would inject greater debate, expand participation and rebalance what has become a revolving door for Vail's political establishment.
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Participation in the mail balloting 2014 Eagle River Water and Sanitation District election jumped by 402.11 percent. While some of the ERWSD increase might be attributable to get-out-the-vote efforts by the Vail Homeowners Association and others, as well as voter interest in the issues (ERWSD 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 of Vail 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. ERWSD is to be commended for their execution of the mail-ballot requirement for their 2014 election and the corresponding increase in voter turnout.
The Vail Homeowners Association encourages the ERWSD, the town of Vail and all other special districts in the area to use the mail-ballot system permanently.
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