One number stood out last Friday — in a very negative way — when the Colorado Springs city clerk's office released another of its returned ballots reports for the 2011 municipal election, which mercifully ends Tuesday.
That number: 371.
Despite a flood of publicity over the past month, the city clerk's office has issued only 371 ballots. In other words, despite a torrent of publicity over the fact that as many as 90,000 registered voters were now considered inactive because they didn't vote last November, only 371 have gone to the trouble of reactivating their status and receiving ballots.
This issue was the subject of considerable media coverage, and questions about whether a late effort should have been made, regardless of cost, to send mail ballots to all registered voters no matter what their status. At the Independent, we even shared in a joint editorial with the Gazette, urging the city to do just that.
Here's an unintended consequence of not sending ballots to anyone who didn't vote the previous November, thus judging them inactive: In the odd-year city election just after a presidential election, many more ballots are mailed and cast — despite the fact that our mayors and at-large City Council members aren't chosen then. Those positions, requiring the entire city to vote for them, come to the ballot in the April after the "mid-term" election, meaning much fewer eligible voters.
To illustrate, here are some numbers from past city elections:
2005 (after the 2004 presidential election) — 229,834 ballots sent, 34,352 votes.
2007 (mayoral race, Lionel Rivera re-elected) — 147,857 ballots sent, 61,338 votes.
2009 (after the 2008 presidential election) — 196,011 ballots sent, 70,557 votes.
2011 (first race for strong mayor) — about 151,000 ballots sent, only 47,250 votes as of last Thursday.
Voters have until 7 p.m. Tuesday to return their mail ballots, and inactive but registered voters still can go to the city clerk's office, 30 S. Nevada Ave., ground floor, and obtain a ballot. If your address or name has changed since you last voted, though, you have to go first to the county clerk and recorder at Centennial Hall, 200 S. Cascade Ave. But since only 371 had done that as of Friday, these particular words must not be connecting.
Will there be a flood of ballots returned in the final two days before the Tuesday night deadline? We're about to find out.
One last point: If you received a ballot but can't find it, go to the city clerk's office.
Regardless, we encourage everyone to vote — or prepare to accept the potential consequences.
Let's put this another way: For our first election of a strong mayor who actually will run the city's day-to-day operations, we're looking at a turnout of as low as 60,000 — less than 25 percent of Colorado Springs' registered voters (counting active and inactive).