Local Voters Facing Ballot Overload and Election Mania Rick Langenberg


The 2016 election season is heading to the finish line, with the actual voting process getting underway this week.
Most local voters will receive their ballots in the mail within the next few days. Don’t panic, as these ballots, at first glance, may resemble a Charles Dickens literature exercise or a revamping of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” epic.
With a slate that consists of two-complete, eight and half by 11-inch pages with small print, encompassing nearly 50 various tallies for voters to make for key national, state and local races and the selection of judges, and then a bombardment of nearly 20 state and local ballot propositions, make sure to wear your reading glasses. In Teller County, officials have compiled about 25 different ballot formats due to the complexity of the election and the variety of voter locations
As a result, election officials have some needed advice: Vote early and take advantage of the mail-in process. In fact, voters are not advised to come to a designated polling center without reviewing their ballot and information booklets beforehand. “We can’t emphasize enough the importance of people voting early and mailing-in or turning in their ballot early,” said Stephanie Kees, the chief deputy for the Teller County Clerk and Recorder’s office.
The clerk’s office, though, has set up a detailed process for voters who may want to visit a polling center or to drop off their ballots at a convenient spot (see related story).
National and Local Races
The ballot hysteria is capped by probably the wildest presidential election in American history with the showdown between Hillary Clinton, the former Secretary of State and Democratic nominee, and Donald Trump, a billionaire real estate tycoon and the Republican nominee. This race has taken center stage on the national level and has gained a reputation as possibly the ugliest presidential campaign in recent memory.
And according to most accounts, Colorado is one of the big swing states, with both Clinton and Trump making regular appearances. However, neither candidate has visited Teller County. Based on the latest polls, Clinton is edging past Trump, but these polls have widely fluctuated in the last few weeks. Another key player in the race is libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico ,who is expected to snag a decent portion of the votes in Colorado.
In other big national races, Michael Bennet, the incumbent Democrat U.S. Senator for Colorado, squares off with El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn, the Republican nominee. To date, Bennet has a commanding lead, but this contest usually comes down to the wire. Glenn was heavily supported by the Teller County commissioners and other local leaders in the Pikes Peak region.
For the District Five Congressional race, incumbent Doug Lamborn, who has held this seat since 2007, is being challenged by Democrat Misty Plowright.
In Teller County, no local races are being contested. Both incumbent commissioners Marc Dettenrieder and Norm Steen, who are both Republicans, have no opponents.
But in the western part of El Paso County, Ute Pass residents will decide on a lively battle between Republican Stan VanderWerf and Democrat Electra Johnson, in the contest to assume the District 3 county commission seat currently held by Sallie Clark, who can’t run due to term limits.
Ballot Hysteria
But a huge story in the 2016 deals with a bombardment of local ballot issues, dealing with such topics as term limits, broadband initiatives, lodging taxes and fire and school district levies. In addition, voters will face a bevy of unusual state propositions, such as measures proposed to establish a state-wide health care system, raise the bar for constitutional amendments, impose higher cigarette and tobacco taxes, increase the minimum wage and change the presidential primary system.
Locally, one of the issues that has commanded main stage attention recently has hinged on a plan to allow local governments to enter into agreements with local telecommunications and Internet providers for the purpose of providing better broadband and cell phone service in the future.
For months, this pact, which could involve major government grants, was touted as a win/win for the county and local cities. But recently, a strong counter campaign has been organized by Peak Internet a major local provider and the first company in the area to provide wireless service, and other community figures. Operators of Peak Internet have classified this ballot proposition as unnecessary government interference and a waste of taxpayer money. They contend that residents are being sold a bag of goods with unrealistic cost estimates for extended fiber optic connections, which will create a duplication of services that already exist and that will cost millions of dollars.
Proponents of the measure, however, say the issue is being fueled by a desire for better Internet and cell phone coverage, and that local governments won’t be competing with private companies. They say the improvements will occur without any tax increases.
Another hot issue is state-mandated term limits for elected leaders. Voters in Teller County will decide if the current limits, two terms for county office-holders, should be eliminated. Proponents, including District Attorney Dan May, say the current term limits are harmful for rural areas like Teller, which have a limited pool to choose from for many of these seats. Moreover, he says this doesn’t change the fact that incumbent elected officials must run for re-election every four years.
However, historically term limits hasn’t been received very well in Teller County. Some critics also question the idea of ending term limits for all county elected positions.
Tax and spending questions are also hot items this year, with both Cripple Creek and Green Mountain Falls opting to generate more revenue through either a new lodging tax or an increase in the current rate. In Cripple Creek, the lodging levy, proposed at 6 percent, won’t target comp rooms provided by local casinos. If the measure passes, the town wants to use the extra money, estimated at possibly $600,000 per year, for pumping more funds into their marketing and special events programs. In Green Mountain Falls, the tax would be raised from 2 to 4 percent, with the extra money going into parks and town beautification. The GMF proposed lodging tax increase, however, has generated some opposition from operators of smaller bed and breakfast establishments in town.
In other tax issues, the Green Mountain Falls/Chipita Park Fire Protection District wants to incur $3.5 million in debt to build a new fire station. The current station is 60-years old.
The Cripple Creek/Victor School District is also proposing an annual $775,000 tax hike to offset problems it has experienced with less revenue and to provide more competitive compensation for their teachers and offer more programs.
The state issues have triggered many political sparks in recent weeks and have been the subject of television commercials.
Out of this laundry list, the ones attracting the most attention are plans for establishing a state-wide healthcare system and plans to make it more difficult to pass new constitutional amendments and vote on citizen-generated issues. These issues sparked a lively discussion at last week’s county commissioners meeting (see related story).