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La Plata County voters slow to return ballots during off-year election

Eligible electors can weigh in on three statewide issues, school board candidates
Jill Burkhart drops off her ballot Oct. 16, 2020, at the La Plata County ACT Building in Bodo Park. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

La Plata County voters are off to a slow start returning ballots this year, said Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Lee, which is not unusual for an off-election year.

The election division received 4,000 ballots as of Tuesday compared with 42,000 ballots sent out, Lee said. That’s an 11% turnout rate, but voters have until 7 p.m. Nov. 2 to cast ballots.

Ballots began arriving in residents’ mailboxes Oct. 9.

“It’s pretty slow,” Lee said. “Drop boxes are going really well – as far as people are using them – but it’s still fairly quiet.”

Lee said people may still be doing their “homework,” studying up on school board candidates and the three statewide ballot issues. The League of Women Voters is still holding forums, and some people may be waiting to tune into those forums before making a final decision, Lee said.

Lee said she has received inquiries from residents questioning the “scrutiny” of the election process.

“People are concerned about is their ballot really going to be counted, how do we do it here in La Plata County,” Lee said. “I encourage people, if they have any questions or concerns call me and let’s talk about it. I hate people feeling like we are not trustworthy and the process is corrupt, and it’s so far from the truth.”

Lee said most of the ballots returned so far have been delivered to one of the county’s five drop boxes. But residents can also mail ballots as late as Monday, Oct. 25. Otherwise, ballots should be taken to a drop box, she said.

Colorado Newsline has provided these descriptions of the three statewide ballot issues:

Amendment 78

If approved, Amendment 78 (“Legislative Authority for Spending State Money”) would require the Colorado General Assembly to appropriate “all state spending,” including money received from the federal government or through legal settlements, through a formal budgetary process, repealing the ability for certain “custodial funds” to be spent directly by the state treasurer.

The measure is backed by conservative group Colorado Rising State Action.

Opponents of the measure, including Scott Wasserman, president of the liberal Bell Policy Center, have launched a last-minute legal challenge seeking to remove it from the ballot. They argue that it violates constitutional provisions that stipulate odd-year elections are reserved only for statewide ballot measures relating to the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, and that Amendment 78 doesn’t qualify.

As a constitutional measure, Amendment 78 needs at least 55% of the vote to pass.

Proposition 119

Backed by education-reform groups, Proposition 119 (“Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress,” formerly known as Initiative 25) would fund a $150 million statewide effort to provide tutoring aid to Colorado students by raising the sales tax rate on recreational marijuana from 15% to 20%.

“This first-in-the-nation initiative to help close the opportunity gap, which has only grown during the pandemic, is uniting Coloradans regardless of their political leanings or where they live,” former Republican Gov. Bill Owens said in a statement on the Yes on Prop. 119 campaign last week. “That’s because they understand the futures of so many of our young people – who are our future employees, employers and community leaders – are on the line.”

An opposition campaign, No on Prop. 119, has received financial support from the nonprofit Taxpayers for Public Education.

“Proposition 119 gives money to private education providers with no accountability or oversight,” reads No on Prop. 119’s website. “There is no criteria as to what is a legitimate learning program. Our tax dollars could go to anyone or anything claiming to be an educational service.”

Proposition 120

Backed by conservative nonprofit Colorado Rising State Action, Proposition 120 (“Property Tax Assessment Rate Reduction,” formerly known as Initiative 27) initially aimed to slash property taxes on homes and businesses, resulting in a $1 billion revenue shortfall for state and local budgets. But a bill passed by the Colorado General Assembly in the final days of the 2021 legislative session dramatically limited Proposition 120’s impact, by amending state law so the ballot measure’s changes would apply only to multifamily residential units and commercial lodging properties.

Michael Fields, Colorado Rising State Action’s director, told the Denver Business Journal earlier this month that in the event that Proposition 120 passes, his group plans to file a lawsuit aimed at implementing the full amount of the tax cut as originally proposed.

Voters can read the full texts of the ballot measures in the 2021 State Ballot Information Booklet or listen to an audio version.

Voter service and polling centers/mail ballot drop-off locations

La Plata County Clerk and Recorder’s Office, 679 Turner Drive, Ste. C, Durango.

Monday-Friday, Oct. 25-29, 8 a.m.-4 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 30, 8 a.m.-noon.

Monday, Nov. 1, 8 a.m.-4 p.m.

Election Day: Tuesday, Nov. 2, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

Bayfield Town Hall, 1199 Bayfield Parkway, Bayfield

Friday, Oct. 29, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Monday, Nov. 1, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Election Day: Tuesday, Nov. 2, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College 1000 Rim Drive, Durango

Monday, Nov. 1, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Election Day: Tuesday, Nov. 2, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

24-hour mail drop-off locations through Nov. 2

  • Durango: La Plata County Clerk and Recorder’s Office, 679 Turner Drive, Ste. C; La Plata County Administration Building, 1101 East Second Ave.; La Plata County Fairgrounds, 2500 Main Ave.; Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College, 1000 Rim Drive.
  • Bayfield: Bayfield Town Hall, 1199 Bayfield Parkway.
  • Ignacio: Farmers Fresh Market, 535 Goddard Ave.
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