Dispensary owners help boost number of county’s registered voters | SteamboatToday.com

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Dispensary owners help boost number of county’s registered voters

Resident Jim Ruggiero drops off his ballot to Routt County Clerk Barbara Houston on Wednesday morning at the Routt County Courthouse.

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Inactive voters can cast ballots at the Routt County Courthouse until 7 p.m. Nov. 1.

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Oct. 19, 2011: Routt County clerk and recorder: Completed ballots ‘flooding in’

— Issues and races in the 2011 election will be decided by a list of registered voters that is the second longest in Routt County history.

And while some of that number likely is a product of the county's growth — 19.4 percent in the past decade, according to the most recent U.S. census — voter registration also is getting a boost from at least one local contingency. The groups opposing four ballot measures that ask voters whether to ban medical marijuana are encouraging, and in one case actually registering, voters.

"I got 1,000 forms, and about half are gone," said Rocky Mountain Remedies co-owner Kevin Fisher, who hosted a voter registration drive this fall.

The county has 17,660 registered voters for the Nov. 1 election, nearly 400 more registered voters than last year and about 1,200 more than the election in 2009. This year's total is the second highest on record, trailing only the 2008 presidential election, when 17,850 county residents were registered voters.

Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland said it's unusual to have a large increase in voter registration during an odd-year election.

"I think that there's strong feelings on the issues this year, which brings people out to vote," Weinland said. "I think for an odd-year election, we'll have better-than-normal turnout. But I'm the clerk. I'm always hoping for better turnout."

All Routt County voters are being asked whether to ban medical marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas of the county, and similar questions are being asked of voters within Steamboat Springs, Oak Creek and Yampa city limits. Steamboat voters also will consider a measure to supplement funding that provides revenue guarantees to the airlines that fly into Yampa Valley Regional Airport during ski season.

There are Steamboat Springs City Council seats up for grabs and contested races for Steamboat Springs and South Routt school board seats. West Routt Fire Protection District and Oak Creek voters also will consider tax increases.

While the number of registered voters is the second highest in county history, the number of inactive voters — those who didn't complete ballots in the 2010 general election — is greater than in the 2008, 2009 and 2010 elections. The 6,110 inactive voters this year means there are a total of 11,550 active voters for the 2011 election here. But those inactive voters are registered and only need to cast a ballot this year to change their status.

In preparation for the election, Fisher said he got certified to host a voter registration drive. It required him to take online training, get a perfect score on a test and register his committee, Sensible Steamboat, with the Colorado Secretary of State. Hosting a voter registration drive allowed him to register voters using forms he submitted to the county Clerk and Recorder's Office.

"Frankly, it's not against the law," Weinland said. "That's what I told the people who were alarmed. It's within the structure of the law. I can't do anything about it."

Secretary of State spokesman Rich Coolidge said in an email that the office doesn't track the numbers of voters registered by committees that have been approved to host voter registration drives.

Fisher wasn't the only one to encourage his customers to vote. D&C Medical Marijuana & Therapeutic Massage co-owner Daryl Levin said he provided about 100 voter registration forms to customers.

"I don't know if they all turned them in or not," he said.

Levin said he didn't just encourage people to vote so they could oppose the medical marijuana ballot measures. He said it's important that people understand the issues in the community.

Aloha's owner Chris Ward agreed. Ward said he also encouraged customers to vote but couldn't say how many.

"Most of the people we talked to are registered voters," he said. "We just encouraged them to cast their vote."

Dr. Kelly Victory, who co-founded a group that opposes medical marijuana businesses, previously said the organization didn't actively encourage people to become registered voters.

"We did not launch any effort or in any way attempt to interfere with the voting process," she said.

The same goes for the Routt County Republican Central Committee, whose chairman, Chuck McConnell, said that although many Republicans he has talked to support a ban on marijuana businesses, the local party didn't officially take a position on the issue.

Routt County Democrats chairwoman Catherine Carson couldn't be reached for comment late last week.

Oct. 3 was the deadline to register to vote in this fall's election.

County elections clerk Vicki Weber said the Clerk and Recorder's Office continues to try to reach out to the county's inactive voters, even after they've been sent five notifications. And she said their efforts are working.

"We've got a lot of people back, about 1,000 since the summer," Weber said.

She said the number of inactive voters continues to shrink each day as people who didn't vote in the 2010 general election or whose ballots were returned in the mail or were undeliverable have been coming in to the Clerk and Recorder's Office to vote.

Any inactive voter can cast a ballot at the Clerk and Recorder's Office in the Routt County Courthouse in downtown Steamboat Springs until 7 p.m. Nov. 1.

To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com