A ballot for every registered voter

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NOTE: The Colorado Springs Independent and The Gazette each desire the best for Colorado Springs, and therefore want the fairest, most representative and accurate outcome in the April election. We share a concern about the city’s plan to send ballots only to “active” voters, which in our view would effectively disenfranchise thousands of registered voters who will not be mailed ballots this year, simply because they didn’t participate in the November 2010 election. To emphasize the need for our City Council to act, and act quickly, we have collaborated on the following editorial.

The upcoming municipal election is among the most important in the city’s history. It is our first chance to elect a strong mayor, while also determining seven seats on the nine-member Colorado Springs City Council. Yet, up to 95,000 registered but so-called “inactive” (by a narrow definition) voters, will not be mailed ballots unless the City Council takes action quickly.

As it stands, only the 165,000 residents who voted last November or have recently reactivated their status will receive ballots by mail. The other 95,000 residents registered to vote, who did not vote in November and have not updated their status, are considered “inactive” by state law. They will receive mail ballots only if, by next Monday, March 7, they reactivate their voter status online or visit the city clerk’s office.

After next Monday, these “inactive” voters must wait until after March 17, then show up in person at the clerk’s office with proof of registration to obtain ballots.

This will obviously reduce participation in the election, as those registered voters who are made to jump through hoops are far less likely to vote. For a registered voter who receives no ballot, the election could easily be out of sight and mind. Most voters don’t dwell on local politics, as they’re busy putting food on the table.

It also would be wrong to assume most currently “inactive” voters — who missed just one election — are apathetic. People get sick. People travel. People have crises in their lives. There are numerous reasons why citizens who care deeply about Colorado Springs may have not voted last November.

Here’s a better idea, supported by both of our newspapers. Though we don’t agree on all things, we agree 1,000 percent on this: Mail ballots to all registered voters who participated in any election since the highly contested 2008 presidential contest. That will increase the number of ballots mailed to voters by about 95,000. In a home-rule city, the City Council has every right to do this.

For all Americans, voting is a fundamental and sacred privilege. It is a duty of city officials to err on the side of inclusion, not exclusion, when mailing ballots to registered voters. After all, mail-in balloting evolved as a way to make participation easier for registered voters with busy and complicated lives. In a mail-only election, people who had a hard time getting to local polling locations will have a harder time getting to the city clerk’s office.

By declining to mail ballots to those who did not vote in the last election, the city will effectively disenfranchise those who most need the convenience of a mail-in ballot. That could include the disabled and poor, for whom transportation is not taken for granted — especially in a sprawling city with limited mass transit. Also, as a disproportionately high percentage of the poor, minorities may comprise a high percentage of registered voters who won’t receive ballots.

The limited mailing of ballots puts Colorado Springs at risk of a lawsuit under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed discriminatory voting practices. Visualize an out-of-work, disabled veteran who lives nowhere near a bus stop. She missed the last election because of an unexpected illness. She wants to vote for someone who might improve bus service near her home, but no ballot arrives.

Is that the kind of election we want, with the first ballot to choose a full-time mayor? Is that the type of publicity Colorado Springs needs?

Members of City Council, we ask you respectfully to fix this preventable problem before it is too late. Please direct our city clerk to mail ballots to all registered voters who have voted since 2008. It’s common sense. More than that, it is the right thing to do.

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