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And the winners are...



Among the winners in last week's mail-balloting were the voters themselves.

Voting by mail saved Colorado Springs taxpayers more than $100,000 they'd have spent on polling booths. It boosted voter turnout over that of previous municipal races, setting a record for the number of votes ever cast in a municipal election.

It let Springs residents vote their hearts and minds in the privacy and convenience of their own homes. And it did so while enhancing ballot security.

So, it's hard to understand continued murmurings among some on the City Council who discount the value of the mail ballot and talk of doing away with it.

Egged on by vocal Boulder activist Al Kolwicz -- whose curious agenda even seeks to curb the use of absentee ballots -- mail ballot critics would turn back the clock and opt out of a voting method used successfully in local elections around the state for years.

It's not as if there aren't more pressing matters facing City Hall these days. Colorado Springs has a new mayor, a substantially new City Council and plenty of urgent business such as securing more water, easing traffic congestion and grappling with the city's painfully tight budget amid slumping tax revenue.

With their work cut out for them, incoming and returning Council members can't afford to get sidetracked fixing something that isn't broken and that, in fact, has proven remarkably successful to date.

As it turned out, glitches were few in this election. In a handful of cases, voters got more than one ballot or received ballots addressed to others -- problems rendered moot by security precautions in place. The verification process ensures no one's vote is counted more than once, and it examines voters' signatures so no one votes another's ballot.

As for the last-minute slowdown last Tuesday in matching signatures for some ballots against those voters' signatures on older registration records, City Clerk Kathryn Young said system upgrades will remedy the flaw by the next city election. Meanwhile, it is that very same effort that is placed into verifying signatures that assures mail-balloters an added degree of security long absent from polling booths.

Another assurance of security lies in the fact that mail ballots are sent only to active voters -- those who cast ballots in the last election -- rather than to all registered voters of record, some of whom may have moved.

Does that somewhat smaller pool of voters limit participation, as some critics contend? No. All registered voters -- unless they truly have moved away from the Springs altogether -- still can notify officials and get a mail ballot well in advance of the election.

Indeed, the numbers that emerged from last week's balloting strongly suggest how much the mail ballot encourages turnout.

The nearly 82,000 ballots that arrived by Election Day represented the largest number of votes ever cast in a municipal election in the Springs as well as the highest percentage of registered voters to weigh in on a city race since 1991.

Some voters complained they couldn't hand-deliver ballots for someone else, such as a spouse, under Kathryn Young's interpretation of state law. That interpretation could be revisited if the City Council so chooses, but in any event is little different from someone attempting to vote for a relative or a friend at the polls, which isn't allowed, either.

And as to concerns a mail ballot's anonymity conceivably could be compromised by a nosy election official, let's remember any attempts to tamper with or otherwise abuse the voting process -- whether ballots are cast by mail or at the polls -- are illegal.

Granted, some folks simply are more comfortable voting in person. They are of course free to hand-deliver their mail ballots. But let's not confuse the trappings of the democratic process with democracy itself. The costly and cumbersome polling booth isn't any more vital to the health of our political culture than was the horse-drawn buggy back in the days when it was the primary means by which voters went to the polls.

In other words, the tools of democracy must be sharpened from time to time to handle our society's changing needs.

Dan Njegomir, former editorial page editor of The Gazette in Colorado Springs, is a senior fellow at the Bighorn Center for Public Policy in Denver

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