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Longing for a Voting Booth


There’s always been something romantic about Election Day. Sure, computers break down and huge crowds turn into obnoxiously long lines. Denver’s Election Day 2006 was a prime example of how not to do things. But nothing replaces the sound of the voting booth curtain swooshing closed behind you. Or the hum of citizens eagerly waiting to cast their vote for change. An added bonus is that cool “I Voted” sticker proving that, yes, you are a socially responsible citizen.
But those days appear numbered.

If you live in the North Metro area, you’ll be hard pressed to find an actual voting machine come Nov. 6 (try Dacono, if you’re antsy). Boulder County’s been mail-in only in municipal elections since 2001, and Adams County returns to its 14-year-old practice this year after taking a hiatus in 2005 to test its new electronic voting system. Both election commissions offer a drop off locale on Election Day, but that’s about it.

Even worse, this past spring, the state passed a law that allows registered voters to become permanent absentees—meaning that in both national and local elections, they’ll be sitting at their kitchen table, casting a tally one bubble at a time. Come 2008, it’ll be darn right easy to vote for Barack, Hillary or Rudy wearing nothing but your boxer shorts.

For these odd-year local elections, there seems to be too many pitfalls to have 100 percent mail-in voting. First, you don’t know who’s actually casting the tally, although city and county clerks assure that there are enough checks and balances in place that fraud is almost nil.

Beyond that, the practice of sending ballots to only voters deemed active—meaning they voted in the previous election—seems to inherently limit the chances of attracting new voters each year, huge national elections aside.

Campaigning is also hampered—most North Metro candidates feel that they have only until mid-October this year to wow voters, leaving the last two-plus weeks before the election meaningless.

Then again, maybe it’s the traditionalist in me simply overreacting. Perhaps this colossal shift away from voting booths in odd-year elections isn’t all that bad. The city and county clerks in the North Metro area seem to universally agree that mail-in elections save money, boost turnout and reduce headaches.

In Longmont, for example, the city experienced turnouts of 49 to 55 percent in its last three odd-year elections, coinciding with its switch to mail-in only. The four odd-year cycles prior were 35, 34, 28 and 26 percent.

Beyond that, the cost is astronomically cheaper. Longmont saved almost $32,000 in 2005’s mail-in election compared to 2006’s polling stations. Louisville Clerk Nancy Varra estimates her city saves about $8,000 when they don’t spring for polling locations—about 1/3 the regular cost.

So it’s hard not to argue the merits of the switch.

But maybe North Metro communities could meet me half-way. Let’s improve educational and outreach efforts so that inactive, registered voters know how easy it is get a ballot.

Perhaps add a few strategic polling locations—not just ballot drop offs—to encourage stragglers and comfort traditionalists. Election Day was once something more than just a counting day. It was a civic duty day.

Or, at the very least, include the “I Voted” stickers with the mailer.

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