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Democracy for some of the people


Democracy for some of the people In case you hadn't noticed, there are a bunch of hapless Democrats stumbling around the country, hoping to become the party's candidate for the presidency come next November. So it's time to think about elections, local and national, and about what it means to live in a democracy.

Nationally, we don't live in a democracy, as the "election" of George W. Bush made perfectly clear. One of these days we may get rid of the Electoral College, just as we got rid of those parts of the Constitution that institutionalized slavery, restricted the vote to male property owners, and defined African-Americans as three-fifths of a person.

Too often, we overpraise the Framers, forgetting that the original Constitution was a vicious and compromised document that no American could today accept. We ought to applaud the amenders, the citizens and lawmakers who established universal suffrage, and whose blood and toil ended constitutionally sanctioned slavery.

Locally, we live in a democracy. Run for City Council or mayor, and if you get the most votes, you win. Live in the Broadmoor or live in a mobilehome, you get one vote and that's all you get.

Last April, we cast our votes for mayor and Council via a mail-in ballot. Supposedly, the convenience of voting at home, and dropping the ballot into the mailbox would lead to far greater voter turnout. The mail ballot was touted by many as being cheaper, more democratic and better suited to our busy world than the old-fashioned way, which required every voter to go to some inconvenient location, wait in line and vote -- all within an arbitrary 12-hour window.

Sounds good, doesn't it? But there's always some fine print.

When the city mailed out ballots for the April election, the only voters who received ballots were those defined as "active" registered voters -- that is, voters who voted in the last general election.

By so limiting the mailing, the city deliberately excluded 80,000 registered voters who, by statute, were deemed "inactive." Sure, some of those folks may have left town or died, but it's reasonable to assume that tens of thousands of voters were thereby left out of the election.

So why didn't the city, in the interest of greater democracy and higher voter turnout, just go ahead and mail an extra 80,000 ballots?

City Clerk Kathryn Young says she didn't mail ballots to inactive voters because Colorado statute 1-7.5-107, which establishes rules and procedures for conducting mail ballot elections, forbids her to do so.

But does it? Here's what the statute says: "The designated election official shall mail (my italics) to each active registered elector ... a mailballot packet ..."

In other words, the statute simply establishes a minimum standard for compliance; nowhere does it forbid an election official to do more -- to, for example, mail ballots to inactive registered voters.

But Young, with the support of City Attorney Pat Kelly, interpreted the statute narrowly and restrictively. According to Kelly: "We're very careful to follow exactly what the law says." To which I pointed out that the mail ballot was introduced with the specific goal of making elections more convenient, and increasing turnout. Isn't it absurd to interpret the statute in such a way as to disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters? Nope, says Kelly, they have to toe the line, and make sure that elections are "open, honest and beyond reproach."

Sorry Pat, sorry Kathryn, but this is simple nonsense. Can anyone imagine that a court would invalidate a city election because the city had mailed ballots to every registered voter? The fact that city officials, both elected and appointed, effectively conspired to disenfranchise the very voters who pay their salaries is absolutely appalling.

When only a tiny fraction of eligible voters (less than 20 percent!) bother to participate in the most basic act of democracy, then we need to make changes. And when we make changes, they ought not to be smugly undermined by the very officials who are supposed to make them work.

What's the first principle of warfare? According to the great Carl von Clausewitz, it's simple: Secure your base. Elections -- passionate, contested, fair and participatory -- are the basis of our society. And when the folks who run elections are not passionately dedicated to giving all of us easy and equal access to the ballot, then we're in a lot of trouble.

Mayor Rivera, City Council -- how 'bout sitting down and fixing the system? I'm not sure exactly what you ought to do, but I know where you need to start ... with a big can of whuppass.


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