Despite few issues, good early turnout
About a fifth of active Glenwood Springs voters already have cast their ballots on the city streets tax.Voter activity has been lighter so far countywide, in an off-year election with few decisions facing voters.Glenwood Springs City Clerk Robin Unsworth said 884 people have hand-delivered or mailed in their ballots in the city election, in a city with 4,390 active voters. She’s encouraged to see such high early voter participation with the final day to vote not until next Tuesday.”We are actually doing quite well,” she said.With this year’s three City Council races all uncontested, city voters have only one decision to make: whether to approve a half-cent sales tax for street maintenance and improvements.Garfield County Clerk Mildred Alsdorf said she has received 3,350 ballots. That’s about 15 percent of the county’s 22,882 active voters. Alsdorf said she’s hoping to get at least a 50 percent turnout.”We don’t have a lot on the ballot,” she noted.In some elections, as many as two-thirds of active voters participate in Garfield County elections. But this year the only countywide decision facing voters is whether to approve two state tax measures, Referendums C and D.Also on some county ballots are a New Castle Roaring Fork Transportation Authority tax measure, Grand River Hospital District term limit question and a race between nine candidates for three Parachute town board seats.”A lot of people may feel there’s not enough on the ballot to vote for, but their vote’s very important,” Alsdorf said.Unsworth said Glenwood Springs voter turnout usually is good – between 60 and 70 percent.”So I’m really anxious for that to happen,” she said. “We always get a better turnout with a mail ballot. I really like doing them rather than a polling place.”Voting by mail is easier for the public, Unsworth said. “And it givers voters really a chance to contemplate the question,” she said.Unsworth and Alsdorf had feared there might be some confusion because of the need for Glenwood voters to complete separate city and county ballots. But Unsworth isn’t seeing much of that.”I think it would have been a lot more confusing had it been a polling place election. In fact I know it would have been. We tried that one time.”From Unsworth’s perspective, a higher turnout is important. “You get a better sense of the community,” she said.Whether it improves the prospects of the street tax measure passing is another question.”I quit forecasting election results a long time ago,” said Sam Skramstad, a former Glenwood mayor who is helping lead the push to get the tax passed.He’s focused not on turnout but how issues such as recent controversy over the placing of planters on Midland Avenue may affect the tax measure’s chances.Skramstad said the measure “is not about planters on Midland Avenue.” It’s about extending Eighth Street, improving neighborhood streets and enabling the city to continue to alleviate traffic problems in future years, he said.”Without it we’re dead in the water and that’s the message we need to get out stronger,” he said.Some residents have threatened to vote against the street tax because of the planters. The city installed the planters to slow traffic and they have been hit twice by motorists in recent weeks.Stan Stevens, a critic of the street tax, said the planter issue could play a role in the election.”I’ve noticed a lot of aggravation over it. A lot of people are speaking against it. … If people are angry at the boxes I think it will carry over.”He said a higher turnout also might increase the chances of the tax being defeated if the election were being conducted at polling places. People who are angry at the city for whatever reason and want to express that through voting “no” would make a point to vote, while more “lackadaisical” voters who favor the tax might not bother voting, he said. But mail-in ballots make it easy for them to go ahead and vote, he said.Skramstad thinks the street tax, and C and D, are suffering from bad press.”When you get bad press, the natural thing (for voters) to do is pull the plug,” he said. High gas and heating prices also may make it harder for tax measures to pass, he said.Skramstad figures many of those who have decided to vote against the street tax already have voted. That leaves undecided voters still open to being persuaded to vote for the tax.Alsdorf said those who haven’t voted should remember they have to sign the envelope in which they return their ballots. About 125 have failed to do so, and Alsdorf has called them and also sent written reminders. Some city voters also have neglected to sign their envelopes.Also, county and city ballots weren’t sent to voters who are registered but not considered active, meaning they didn’t vote last year. They can still obtain ballots and vote if they contact city or county clerk offices.Alsdorf said the U.S. Postal Service has returned about 2,700 county ballots as undeliverable. Unsworth said 564 city ballots have been returned for the same reason, reflecting people who moved or didn’t update their addresses.Alsdorf said she will run test ballots through her vote-counting machines on Friday. She plans to begin counting votes on Monday.She urged voters not to expect ballots mailed over the weekend to arrive in time to be counted.County ballots also are being accepted at the Garfield County Courthouse in downtown Glenwood Springs and at the Rifle Annex, 144 E. Third St. City ballots are being taken at City Hall, 101 W. Eighth St., Glenwood Springs.
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