Here’s a secret—sort of: Communities like Crested Butte, Mt. Crested Butte and Gunnison are above the average when it comes to hosting a population that is transient. Between the resort and university aspects of the three municipalities in Gunnison County, lots of people come to the valley, participate in their new community and then leave. Some move down the road to maybe Riverbend, Meridian or Crested Butte South, while others leave the state. Sometimes they don’t take care of all the life details when they move.
One of those details might be changing their address on their voter registration. My friends at the Gunnison Country Times reported in a lengthy story last week that some people who no longer reside in the town of Crested Butte have remained on the voter rolls. The insinuation was that because the town’s proposed sales tax increase initiative lost by just three votes last November, some who shouldn’t have voted did and they might have swayed the end result of that election. It appears councilman Glenn Michel was raising the alarm behind the scenes with some of the staff about the issue.
Now, again, there are a ton of people who don’t take the time or responsibility to remove themselves from voter rolls when they change locations. So with new mail ballot laws from the state, some could indeed be sent a town ballot when they are not eligible. But let’s be clear—that it is not at all unique to Crested Butte.
Mt. Crested Butte town manager Joe Fitzpatrick said the issue of having people who no longer live in Mt. Crested Butte on the town voting rolls “is huge. The rolls are filled with names of people not living here. We have so many seasonal residents like any transient resort town. Mail ballots exacerbate the problem. It’s the system that is the issue.”
Gunnison city clerk Gail Davidson said it is very possible and even likely that some people are sent ballots when they shouldn’t get them. “It could happen,” she said. “As clerks we all want people who have the ability to vote to vote. But with Western and the transient nature of the population, there are people who move and are still on the voter rolls. With the help of the county and the state we try to cross-check names and addresses. We do what we can. Do things happen? Yes. Everyone is fallible and human.”
Crested Butte town manager Todd Crossett said it appears some ineligible voters may well be on the Crested Butte list and if that turns out to be the case, the town will work with the county to rectify the issue. But, he said, contrary to some perceptions of last week’s story, the town isn’t going to “go after” people if they turned in a town ballot when they don’t live in town anymore. The town’s sole objective would be to ensure voter rolls are as accurate as possible in the next election.
While mail ballots tend to have a much higher voter participation rate than the old standard elections, I dislike the mail ballot. I miss “Election Day” and the sort of small town celebration it brought. People really did treat it as a sort of holiday around here. The town of Mt. Crested Butte closed the town hall on general election days. People would stand in line together at the polling places and reconnect. The lapel flags of “I voted” were worn with a certain small town pride.
Election Day was a culmination of an election season. That doesn’t happen anymore. The ballots are mailed and many people vote weeks before the first Tuesday in November. They might not wait to attend a candidate’s forum or read the letters in the local newspapers expressing the pros and cons of various candidates or issues. The election season drags out and ends with a whimper except for the counting of mail ballots, which as we saw last time, can be a bit of a cluster.
I’d love to see the county and the towns able to hold an election where people have to take the responsibility to show up. As it worked in the past, the voting judges would ask those at the polls for their address and confirm their voter information. If they had moved and not changed the info, they wouldn’t get a wrong ballot. It actually works pretty well in a small town.
So is it a good idea to use the checks and balances to try to keep the voter rolls as clean as possible? Of course. But as Gunnison clerk Davidson said, “If someone really, truly wanted to commit voter fraud, they could.” And like Gail, I do not believe most people here want to commit voter fraud.
I do think most people would find comfort and enjoy celebrating another pseudo-holiday in the fall … and that is done better with a small town “Election Day” as opposed to getting another piece of paper in the mail.