08 September 2009

Estes Park Makes Anti-Democratic Headlines Again

If you conduct a vote when nobody's around to participate, is it still fair?

Estes Park, which plans to mail out ballots on abolishing an urban renewal authority on Christmas Eve, which are due January 12, 2009, the low point of the year for a community full of summer homes that is largely uninhabited during period when the mail in balloting will be conducted, poses the question. Critics, who want to abolish the authority, argue that the timing is a deliberate effort to disenfranchise local voters.

Most of the town board in August said placing the urban renewal question on the Nov. 3 election would confuse voters. They reserved a spot in that election for a question on whether to create a new fire protection district.

Mayor Bill Pinkham said he's not sure if the town can move the urban renewal authority election to later in January. "We will try and educate the voters as best we can on the issue," he said. "Our board's intent was to do the best thing for our town."

Color me skeptical of the town board. Colorado's ballots frequently have a dozen or more ballot issues and even more political and judicial positions to consider. The 2009 ballot, by comparison, will be a thin one, because no state or county offices are up for consideration in the off year and there are also some subject-matter limitations on ballot initiatives in off years. Two ballot issues, both relative to local government bodies, does not seem like an overwhelming ordeal to educate citizens about in a small town. It will surely cost more than considering both issues at once and generally, public interest in ballot issues is higher when more than one is on the ballot at once. I also doubt that many people who are inclined to vote in an off year municipal election would confuse an urban renewal authority with a fire protection district.

The mountain community that abuts Rocky Mountain National Park made the news in 2005 with a recall election that removed a member of the town board for failing to recite the pledge of allegiance at meetings due to religious objections.

The current episode is also a law school exam perfect example of a facially neutral activity, setting the date for an election, that in practice may have an undemocratic result.

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