Primary election

Change state law mandating mailing of ballots with no contested races

When the state Legislature opens its 2013 session in January, our lawmakers should remember this year’s primary election. What should be a simple change to state election law could save counties considerable time and money.

Current law requires county clerks to mail ballots to all registered voters if there are any contested races for any positions in any major party. That means La Plata County sends ballots to registered Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and members of the American Constitution Party.

Tom Tancredo took second place with almost 37 percent of the vote in the 2010 governor’s race running as the American Constitution Party nominee.

Libertarian and American Constitution Party voters got 180 and 62 ballots, respectively, in La Plata County. In Montezuma County, each account for fewer than 50 ballots.

In La Plata County, the only contested race on any ballot is a GOP race for University of Colorado regent. Montezuma County voters affiliated with the American Constitution Party can also choose a candidate for regent and Libertarians have a race for Congress.

But the only real decisions are on the Republican ballot where there are a number of contested races. And there is a reason for that; with more than a 2-to-1 advantage in voter registration over the Democrats, in Montezuma County, the GOP primary, as often as not, functionally is the election.

In neither county do Democrats have a contested race. Yet, in both counties, they, too, were mailed ballots.

It is easy to dismiss the American Constitution Party or other third parties as inconsequential or fringe groups, but such movements serve an important function. For while the United States traditionally operates as a two-party system, the nature and identity of those two parties has changed several times through the years. They can also sometimes affect the outcome of races between the two major parties.

More to the point, third-party supporters are American voters deserving of all the respect that suggests. If those parties have contested primary races, by all means, send their voters a ballot.

But why send ballots to anyone who is not afforded a choice? Barring a tragedy or some candidate’s unforeseen withdrawal, Southwest Colorado’s registered Democrats know exactly who will be representing their party on the November ballot. It serves no purpose to remind them at taxpayer expense.

And it is a cost. Montezuma County mailed out about 3,400 Democratic ballots in this primary. For La Plata County, that number was almost 9,500. In postage alone, that works out to something like $1,000 and $3,000, respectively. Add printing costs, handling and the like, and there is real money being spent. For what?

Elections are at the heart of our republic. They define our democracy and in the most fundamental way give meaning to our freedom. We are a self-governing people, and we manifest that through voting.

But what defines voting is the act of choosing between competing candidates and differing views. When there is no choice there is no meaningful vote.

Eliminating unnecessary ballots will not fund K-12 schools, higher education or new roads. But at a time when those priorities are already at risk, it is ridiculous to spend money on efforts that accomplish nothing.

State election law should be changed to allow county clerks to quit mailing meaningless ballots and save taxpayers’ money.