Back in the old days, when most people voted on Election Day, well-run campaigns had the character of a symphony. They'd build strength through the summer before hitting a thunderous climax in late October.
City Councilor Jan Martin, who is pushing a proposed new property tax for Colorado Springs, sounds a more improvisational note as she talks about elections like this year's, to be conducted solely by mail ballot.
"Campaigns are still figuring out what to do," says Martin, whose approach has involved rallies and a Facebook page to secure early support for Measure 2C. "Once it's in the mail, it's done."
That sense of near-finality looming beyond Oct. 13, when ballots are mailed, should motivate candidates and issue activists into last-minute mode in the coming week. County election manager Liz Olson doesn't hesitate when asked when she expects ballots to start returning: "Probably the 14th."
Generally, election officials see a big wave of mail ballots coming back in the days after they are mailed, followed by a second wave around election day, which this year is Nov. 3.
Veteran campaigner Sarah Jack, director of political affairs for the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs, is well aware of the shortened timeline as she helps with the campaign opposing Measure 300, Douglas Bruce's latest effort to topple city enterprises. She explains that's the reason the campaign is going big before ballots go out, putting up billboards and running radio ads to get the message out widely.
Though Bruce's bid is more or less a repeat of his Stormwater Enterprise issue that failed last year, the lateness of its addition to the '09 ballot gave the opposition only weeks to organize. And while some of its ads are getting out there, the Web site votenoon300.com appears to be afterthought — a single page counters Bruce's encyclopedic cityreforms.com.
Nor'wood vice president Kevin Walker, heading the campaign against Measure 300, says the short season is complicated by the additional challenge in a mail-only election of predicting who's actually going to return the ballots.
"Since everyone's going to get a ballot," Walker says, "you don't know who that is."
Olson says the county will send ballots to more than 270,000 people who voted last November, plus close to 30,000 more who are considered inactive only for failing to vote. Voters listed as inactive because of an address change won't get ballots, but they can still vote if they visit the clerk's Centennial Hall office before the election ends to update their records.
Turnout in off-year elections can be low; only 29 percent of voters returned ballots when the county did a mail-ballot election in 2007, as compared to 91 percent in last year's general election.
Using mail ballots only saves the county the expense of training election workers and staffing polling places. Though many also praise their convenience, some remember fondly the old days of polling-place elections.
"I think a lot of people miss going to the polls, and what we lose doesn't make up for the cost savings," says Manitou Springs mayoral candidate Marc Snyder. "I think we do lose something when we just put a stamp on the envelope and send it off."
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