Colorado county ordered to conduct uncontested primary

Colorado is one of few states that allow officials to cancel primary elections if they are uncontested.

The law was adopted in 2009, but no counties invoked the law until 2011 when El Paso County, Colo., canceled its primary election, prompting Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler to sue.

An appeals court upheld the suit, requiring Wayne Williams, El Paso County clerk and recorder, to carry out the uncontested election. It cost the county $68,000 in printing and mail costs.

Williams wasn’t pleased with Gessler’s interpretation of the law.

“We’re never happy to be told we can’t save money,” Williams said.

An El Paso County registered Democrat sent an email to Williams in mid-June asking why he even received a ballot.

“I’m assuming some law requires this ballot to be mailed to every registered Democrat and our tax dollars pay for it,” he wrote, “but it seems like a waste of money.”

Williams thinks that the few voters in the uncontested primary race “feel a civic responsibility to vote,” he said, while most people “think it’s not worth voting.”

Days before the 2012 Colorado primary, only 15 percent of the 65,000 voters had returned their uncontested ballots.

“When you have most jurisdictions during this recession that have had diminished sales tax numbers and less property tax coming in, you have to look at how you can provide the critical services in the most cost-effective way possible,” Williams said.

By Emily Nohr, News21

Mail-in ballots economical, but fail to build community

A small county in Nebraska is voting by mail to reduce voting costs, but some miss Election Day camaraderie.

Mail voting often reduces costs and improves voter turnout, but residents of some rural
communities say their sense of community is dwindling
with the removal of in-person polling locations.

Residents of Cherry County, Neb., which at 100 miles wide is the
state’s geographically largest county, miss election days when neighbors
gathered to vote.

“You did more than just vote. You sat and visited with people,” said
rancher Paul Young, adding it wasn’t uncommon for cake, pie and coffee
to be served at the school polling place that closed seven years

Tom Elliott, the county’s election commissioner, agreed, but says
the switch is an economically better way to run elections. The switch to vote-by-mail has allowed the county to trim 121 Election Day employees.
“We all enjoyed that traditional aspect of going to the polling
place,” Elliott said, adding that the conclusion was foregone.

By Emily Nohr, News21

California sentencing laws could disenfranchise additional prisoners

California sentencing laws are changing who is eligible to vote, and prisoner rights advocacy groups say 85,000 California voters have been disenfranchised as a result.

The issue has become murky since April, when Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a measure that realigned the criminal justice system to reduce prison overcrowding and cut budgets. Over the last nine months, the state’s 58 counties have assumed responsibility for low-level felony offenders who would have otherwise been in prison.

Since 1974, Californians with serious and lesser felony convictions have had the right to vote unless they’re in state prison or on parole. In December, Secretary of State Debra Bowen, a Democrat, told county election clerks there’s no difference between county and state incarceration when it comes to felons’ right to vote.

The League of Women Voters and prisoner rights organizations, such as All of Us or None, see a difference. They sued in the state’s Supreme Court May 28, challenging interpretation of the law. The Supreme Court hasn’t decided to hear the case yet, although the groups ask the state to clarify who is eligible to vote while serving in county jail.

A plaintiff in the case, 31-year-old Alisha Coleman, is serving a three-year sentence in San Francisco County jail for drug trafficking convictions, followed by one year of mandatory supervision. She cannot vote, but hopes the court will allow her to vote by mail from her cell.

Bowen’s office declined to comment on the case.

By Alissa Skelton, News21