Voters informed of issues at forum

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Hayden voters learned more about the motivations, details and possible effects of issues on the Nov. 2 ballot at a Town Hall forum Tuesday night.

About 10 people attended the forum, which Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland kicked off by discussing early voting, precincts and voter fraud -- a big issue on residents' minds.

Many of the problems with statewide voter fraud -- including people registering multiple times and felons registering -- are because of registration drives that compensate circulators for the number of voters they register, Weinland said.

Even people who claimed to have registered in reputable events in Routt County have not made it through the system, said Weinland, who advised those who registered in a drive to check with the Clerk and Recorder's Office to confirm their registration.

Weinland, whose office has red flagged seven felons who are registered to vote, said overall she is confident that her office is "doing things right."

By 2006, a statewide voter registration system should be in place, helping counties better keep track of people who have moved and those attempting voter fraud, she said.

She reminded participants that early voting, which started Monday, will continue through Friday in the annex of the Routt County Courthouse. About 280 people voted Monday, and more than that had voted by early Tuesday afternoon, she said.

Weinland also verified that Precinct 11 will be in the Hayden Town Hall and Precinct 12, previously in the Hayden Congregational Church, will be at the Hayden Library.

Beginning his discussion of ballot issues, moderator Mark Fischer explained that amendments to the Colorado Constitution may only be changed by voters, though amendments to the revised statutes -- or laws passed by the state Legislature -- may be changed by the Legislature.

Issues are placed on the ballot either by a referendum, a proposal by the Legislature, or by an initiative proposed by citizens gathering a required number of signatures.

A problem with the initiative process is that it allows organizations to pay people to get petition signatures, Weinland said.

"Anyone with enough money to pay circulators can pretty much get something on the ballot," she said.

Regarding Amendment 34, which would prohibit limits on the amount of money homeowners can recover in lawsuits about construction defects, would be a constitutional amendment and is an example of an issue in which citizens are asked to be legislators, Fischer said.

Participants discussed that the initiative does not differentiate between work done by professionals and improvements by nonprofessionals or owners, leaving former homeowners potentially liable for work on the property.

Amendment 35, or the tobacco tax, is an example of citizen-driven initiatives that voters will continue to see on ballots because of the conflict between the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, the Gallagher Amendment and Amendment 23, which together form tight tax revenue restraints blamed for Colorado's budget woes, Fischer said.

Amendment 35 is a constitutional initiative that would tax cigarettes and tobacco products to generate funds for cancer treatment, low-income and child health care and smoking prevention and cessation programs.

"It's a classic example of the health care industry for low income people wanting to generate revenues that the Legislature can't provide. ... You're going to one of these every voting go-around," Fischer said.

There was considerable discussion of Amendment 37, the citizen-driven amendment that would require utility companies with more than 40,000 meters to produce a certain percentage of energy from renewable sources by 2015.

Larry Covillo, president and general manager of Yampa Valley Electric Association, emphasized the organization already purchases most of its energy from Xcel, which is the nation's second largest producer of green energy. He added that Colorado customers are among the largest buyers of green power.

"We think it's a good thing," he said. "We just don't think it needs to be a mandate."

Among the complicated details, Covillo noted that the amendment would leave the door open for "funny business," mainly price gauging from companies that acquire renewable energy sources then wait until the deadline to sell it at inflated rates.

Although the amendment puts a cap on residential rates, there is no limit to how much utilities will have to pay for renewable energy, he said.

District 2 County Commissioner Doug Monger said that incentives, rather than a mandate, would be a better approach to increasing green power.

Jeff Fry, Monger's Republican challenger in the upcoming election, also attended the forum.

Referendum A, which has generated little discussion among the media, would have a big effect on civil service in the state, Fischer said.

Currently, civil service staff work their way up in state government and take tests qualifying them for the jobs. Referendum A would give the governor the opportunity to appoint more state-wide officials and also contract state services to private contractors, including those residing in other states, Fischer explained.

Voters may confirm their registration by calling 870-5556.

-- To reach Tamera Manzanares, call 871-4204 or e-mail tmanzanares@steamboatpilot.com

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