Steamboat Springs A surge of voters Monday and Tuesday pushed participation in the 2009 Routt County election to more than 36 percent, but it was still below that of recent odd-year elections.
Figures from the Routt County Clerk and Recorder's Office show that 4,942, or 36.4 percent of the county's 13,573 registered voters who were sent ballots in the county's first mail-in-only election, voted by the time polls closed at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
"For an odd-year election, that's pretty normal. We had a good turnout in '05 and '07 for the odd years, but there were more issues on the ballot," said Kay Weinland, Routt County clerk and recorder. There were no Steamboat-related tax or bond issues, statewide bond issues or other wide-reaching measures on the relatively short 2009 ballot. Weinland had previously said she hoped for 60 percent turnout.
Even Tuesday's late surge couldn't push local turnout anywhere near 60 percent. From 7 to 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, 205 residents turned in ballots or voted in person at the Routt County Courthouse. By 3 p.m., that number jumped to 629 voters, and it was 857 by 6 p.m. By the end of the voting day, the number of last-day voters had jumped to 921, a day's total equal to 18.6 percent of the total turnout in the three-week voting cycle. Ballots were mailed the week of Oct. 13 and began arriving in mailboxes that week.
As of Monday night, more than 4,000 votes were cast in the election, bringing the turnout rate to about 29.6 percent of eligible voters. At the beginning of the week, 3,181 votes had been cast by 23.4 percent of the county's voters.
Tracy DelliQuadri brought her young daughter to drop her completed ballot at the courthouse at about 6 p.m. Tuesday. As a working mom, she said it was the only time of the day she could make it to the Elections Office. DelliQuadri received her ballot too late to return it through the mail and said she thinks the county's mail-in-only plan has positive and negative points.
"I think it's actually really convenient to be able to do at home, because then you have all your papers that you can read for your information. But there's always a fear that you could lose your ballot," she said.
Rick Fisher, who dropped off his ballot at the courthouse Tuesday morning, said he was pleased with the county's first mail-in election but that he didn't return his ballot soon enough to mail it.
"I think it's a great idea," he said. "It saves us money and makes it smoother."
At the end of the day, the number of votes cast was low compared with previous odd-year elections. More than 6,100 people, or 57 percent of those registered, voted in Routt County's 2007 election, including about 3,500 city residents; 3,337 city residents voted in this year's election. The 2007 ballot featured a number of local and state referendums and taxing questions. Of registered voters in Routt County, 56 percent voted in 2005, and 51 percent voted in 2003.
There were no elections in South Routt County this fall, which accounts for some of the decrease in the number of votes cast countywide. Of the 16,467 registered voters in Routt County, 13,573 were sent ballots for Tuesday's election. Turnout results are based on the 13,573 ballots sent out.
Weinland said the county's first all-mail-in election was "a very efficient process," narrowing the work involved in a typical election, which could include different procedures for day-of polling place voting, mail-in ballots and early voting.
Weinland said voters came to the Elections Office with ballots they filled in incorrectly, a request for a new ballot if they did not receive one in the mail or a request for a new ballot to replace one they lost.
"The good news is that in Colorado we can issue up to three ballots to a voter, so they can have a couple of opportunities to have errors," she said.
The 1,667 ballots deemed undeliverable at the end of the day Monday included ballots sent to former voters who have moved away and haven't registered elsewhere, Weinland said, adding that the number probably went down throughout the day Tuesday as voters came in for replacement ballots. Undeliverable ballots are those the U.S. Postal Service was not able to send to voters because of issues such as out-of-date mailing addresses. Ballots cannot be forwarded for security reasons.
Some candidates in Steamboat's contested City Council races commented on the mail-in process and voter turnout. District 1 winner Cari Hermacinski said she was pleased with the 4,900-plus turnout, which far exceeded her hope for at least 3,000. District 2 winner Kenny Reisman said if mail-in-only is here to stay, thoughts about how to improve the process might be needed.
"My concern is I don't want to go backward with turnout," Reisman said.