On Tuesday, Nov. 5, state and local voters participated in an off-year election chock-full of landmark initiatives ranging from retail marijuana taxation and the largest proposed increase in public school funding in state history to secession.
Although most issues in Summit County passed or failed as expected, Summit County Clerk and Recorder Kathy Neel said the 2013 election was no less historic.
According to final numbers, Summit County voters cast 7,509 ballots in the election. With 19,245 active registered voters, according to the Colorado Secretary of State office’s October figures, the local voter turnout rate was nearly 40 percent.
Neel said this year’s turnout was not only positive, but also greatly exceeded the last two off-year elections. By comparison, Summit County voters cast about 5,200 ballots in 2011 and just about 3,200 ballots in 2009, Neel said.
“It was huge compared to ’09 and 2011,” Neel said. “I was really happy with the turnout and I want to thank all of the citizens for participating in this year’s election.
“You never know what drives people to vote. There were a lot of interesting issues on the ballot, but maybe the easy access to voting increased turnout, but that’s just my opinion.”
However, an election that ended in historic fashion began with a monumental hiccup when in October the Clerk and Recorder’s office sent about 7,000 mail-in ballots to voters in the wrong districts. The mistake caused some to raise questions about the ability of the office and election judges to protect the integrity of the election.
But Neel maintained throughout the ordeal that processes were in place to ensure the election would go off without a hitch, albeit with some extra work for staff and volunteers. More than 300 phone calls were placed to voters who received incorrect ballots, in addition to the extra hours judges put in Tuesday night to double-check each ballot by hand.
“I feel very confident the integrity of the election was maintained because of how the voter-management system works,” Neel said. “It’s a statewide system and every ballot and signature was double-checked. It took a lot more work, but the election judges and staff did an amazing job.”
Although there were a variety of questions at both the state and local levels, no other issue dominated the local conversation more than initiatives to tax retail marijuana sales — with the possible exception of Amendment 66.
Locally, voters followed the lead of the rest of the state by approving Proposition AA, which imposes 25 percent in state sales and excises taxes on retail marijuana, and by passing 5 percent excise taxes in the towns of Breckenridge, Frisco and Silverthorne. The local measures not only were approved, but passed by an average margin of 50 points.
“I wasn’t surprised considering all of the uncertainty,” said Nick Brown, owner of High Country Healing in Silverthorne. “My first reaction was pure excitement, even though I think the taxes are a little excessive. My only hope is all of the money goes to the right places.”
According to ballot language, funds generated from state sales taxes following the passage of Prop AA will go to increased police enforcement and mental health programs. Revenue generated by the 15 percent excise tax are earmarked for capital projects at Colorado public schools.
Like the state sales tax, funds generated by local excise taxes also will be spent on offsetting forecasted cost increases for police enforcement and mental health services.
“I’m glad Silverthorne citizens understand the need to account for some of the collateral costs and consequences of legal retail marijuana sales,” said town of Silverthorne Mayor Pro Tem Bruce Butler. “I believe voters made a responsible decision last night.”
Brown, who earned an economics degree from Princeton, said Wednesday he is excited about the future and potentially being one of the first retail marijuana operations in the state. He has already filed all of the pertinent applications to open a retail marijuana establishment in Silverthorne after Jan. 1, 2014.
“We’re still in a state of recession and I think there is enough money to go around to help Colorado and the rest of the country,” Brown said. “It’s really exciting and I feel blessed because I never thought I would have put my degree to use in the marijuana industry.
“I think we are setting a precedent for the entire world to follow.”