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Voters could change face of state elections

Jane Stebbins

SUMMIT COUNTY – Colorado Voter Initiative officials submitted petitions Monday to put two questions on the November ballot that, if approved, will abolish the caucus and assembly method of getting a candidate’s name on the ballot and to receive ballots in the mail.

Backers collected an estimated 128,000 signatures for the Open Ballot Access initiative and 120,000 signatures for the Automatic Absentee Ballot. Petitioners are required to obtain 80,571 valid signatures to get an initiative on the state November ballot.

Open Ballot Access

The Open Ballot Access initiative was crafted to eliminate the state’s caucus-assembly system and allow major party candidates to get on the ballot by obtaining a “reasonable number of petition signatures from fellow party members,” said Peggy Lamm of Bighorn Ballot, which is sponsoring the initiatives. “This measure will expand voter choice by drawing a wider range of candidates and demystifying the candidate nomination process.”

The caucus and assembly system

Colorado is one of five states that still use the caucus and assembly system to place candidates on a ballot. First, registered voters attend caucuses and discuss platforms and potential candidates for various offices. Delegates are elected to attend the county assembly, where a candidate is nominated. That candidate must receive at least 30 percent of the assembly vote to get on the ballot.

If a candidate doesn’t make the ballot, he or she can petition to get on the ballot. However, Anderson said, it is often an uphill climb because the candidate’s party sometimes excludes them from meetings and events as they support the candidate who was elected at the assembly.

“There’s really no good way to explain the caucus system in English, because it’s so phenomenally complicated,” said Eric Anderson, spokesman for the initiative. “Any system that is this complex discourages participation. No one understands it. It’s supposed to be open to anybody, but less than 1 percent of Republicans or Democrats participate in their caucuses. Most people find the process confusing.”

Most other states nominate party candidates by petition, as this measure proposes, and some merely require a filing fee.

According to information posted on the Bighorn Ballot Web site, because participation in the caucus system is so low, insiders and special interests with extreme points of view can dictate which candidates appear on the primary ballot. In areas where one party has a strong majority, this often amounts to picking the eventual winner.

In 2000, there were 168 possible primary elections for state legislative offices, but only 21 featured more than one candidate, the Web site notes. And in 21 of the 84 state legislative races, neither primary nor general elections were contested.

County Elections Administrator Vicky Stecklein said that, if approved, this initiative would require her to count and verify all the signatures presented to her on petitions.

The Automatic Absentee Ballot

The Automatic Absentee Ballot, however, could prove to be less time-consuming – particularly if computers were brought into the process to verify signatures.

That initiative was designed to expand on the increasingly popular practice of absentee- and mail-voting in the state, Anderson said. According to Stecklein, even if the initiative is approved at the state level, it would require Board of County Commissioners approval before it could be implemented.

“This initiative allows voters to choose among candidates and complex issues at their kitchen table, instead of battling traffic, weather and busy schedules to wait in line at polls,” Lamm said. “Voting that’s more convenient also will be more thoughtful.”

Anderson said a mail-ballot system – currently permitted in Colorado in nonpartisan, off-year elections – wouldn’t be any more prone to fraud than current voting methods.

“The facts don’t bear it out,” he said. “The experience has been overwhelmingly positive.”

Currently, when a voter submits an absentee ballot – by mail or in person – the signature is verified, and the name is stricken from that election’s voter rolls, barring that person from trying to vote again at the polls. Those who vote after the list of eligible voter names has been printed are manually deleted from the list.

Stecklein said the new process also would have to be expanded to include voter signatures on the computer.

“That does away with the time-consuming process of going to hard copy,” Stecklein said. “Any part of a mail-ballot or absentee-ballot system would have to have that. It’s the only way you could take care of any fraud issues.”

Cost likely would play a factor in whether the county commissioners would give the new method their blessing, but Stecklein likes the initiative.

“I very much like the idea of counties deciding how they want to vote, either by polling places or mail ballot,” she said. “I like the freedom of it.”

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or jstebbins@summitdaily.com.

Early voting ends Friday

BRECKENRIDGE – Early voting for the Aug. 13 primary continues all this week. Votes may be cast between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. at the Summit County Clerk’s Office, located on the second floor of the Old County Courthouse in Breckenridge.

Voters must have a major party affiliation.

Votes may be cast for a wide variety of positions, including U.S. Congressional District 2, Colorado Senate District 16, Colorado House District 56, Regent of University of Colorado District 2, U.S. Senator, Governor, Colorado Secretary of State, Colorado Attorney General, state treasurer, county clerk and recorder, county treasurer, county assessor, county sheriff and county coroner.

Locally, races are under way for the treasurer’s seat, with incumbent Larry Gilliland facing off against Marty Ferris, and coroner Dave Joslin vying to retain his seat against Joanne Richardson.

The seats for county clerk, treasurer and assessor are uncontested.

On this ballot, “There are no candidates for County Commissioner District 1,” said Vicky Stecklein, the county’s elections administrator. “We will have two candidates on the November ballot for commissioners, but one is Green Party and one is Independent, which is why they don’t show up on this ballot.”

Commissioner Gary Lindstrom is the Independent Party candidate for District 1, and Justin McCarthy is the Green Party candidate for that position. For more information, call Stecklein at (970) 453-3479.

– Jane Reuter


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