Election in Progress for Fate of DEC

Denver is abuzz with speculation about the 2008 elections. Udall, McInnis for Senate? Tancredo for president? With all the announcements and gossip, it’s easy to forget there’s an election going on right now in Colorado’s capitol city – and one that will have a big impact on how Denverites vote in that all-important 2008 election.

The question before voters is whether or not to eliminate the three-member Denver Election Commission and replace it with a single, elected clerk and recorder. Denver City Council voted 7-6 last month to hold the special election now instead of in May. While nearly everyone seems to agree that changes are needed at the DEC, there’s not consensus that abolishing it is the right move. Councilwoman Rosemary Rodriguez and City Auditor are the measure’s strongest backers. Saying it was the best option available, Mayor Hickenlooper gave his guarded support.

Many others, however, are against the move. Some want to retain the three-member DEC, others want it gone but think the hasty special election is not the way to go about  it.

The Rocky Mountain News ran an editorial this week supporting the measure, saying a clerk and recorder would be more accountable to the people. The editorial noted the high turnover in the executive directorship of the DEC and stated:

In an office that is growing in complexity thanks to new technologies and increasing mandates from federal and state laws, such churning in management is likely to undermine public confidence in the operations of Denver elections.

Were such a pattern to continue under the supervision of an elected clerk and recorder, the public could demand explanations . . . and know where the buck would stop if the situation did not improve.

The Denver Post editorial board, on the other hand, is against the proposal. In an editorial Tuesday they said they were concerned that this election will be botched, too (it’s being run, of course, by the DEC):

The Denver City Council is trying to restore confidence in the city’s damaged election process, but it’s going about it the wrong way.

The council recently called a snap election to replace the city election commission with an elected clerk and recorder. Mail ballots have been arriving, due to be returned no later than Jan. 30. We believe there hasn’t been time for proper consideration of this issue and urge voters to reject the ballot measure.

But don’t try to check the “no” box. It’s not nearly that simple.

This hastily crafted mail-only ballot was, of course, prepared by the same Denver Election Commission the council wants to replace. The instructions are awkward, the procedure is confusing, and there’s a game of “gotcha” on the matter of postage.

The Post also published guest commentary last week from two perspectives.

City Council members Carol Boigon, Rick Garcia and Rosemary Rodriguez urged voters to approve the measure. They wrote:

Denver’s dilemma is that its Election Commission is an independent agency that answers to no one, won’t take advice and has not been managed well. Denver’s looming crisis is that the city’s voice may be weakened in 2008 unless the election processes are reformed.

The mayor, auditor and City Council struggled to find a way to stop another disaster and reached consensus on a proposed charter amendment that would establish an elected clerk and recorder to oversee elections, as is the system in 62 of Colorado’s 64 counties.

Here’s why we believe that charter change is necessary:

Anything that infringes on the right of Denver voters to participate fully in state and national elections is unacceptable. Denver uses a horse- and-buggy election system for an Information Age mission. Modern elections are legally and technically complex, and the job of running them now exceeds the ability of a part-time commission.

Some say the Denver Election Commission’s problems are only technical or staff-driven. That’s true to a point, but the commissioners refused technical help from the city’s IT department and didn’t seek their own help. The report done for the mayor-council post-election investigation described comprehensive failure and a leadership that was “technology adverse.”

Former Commissioner Jan Tyler is adamantly against scrapping the DEC. She wrote:

An elected clerk will be just another politician, and that might just create new problems for Denver.

Proponents of measure 1A argue that an elected clerk is the only answer, but others – such as the study group convened by Councilwoman Marcia Johnson in 2005 – have recommended managerial, not structural changes.

Even the consultant hired by the city to examine the 2006 election didn’t specifically recommend structural changes.

Hiring experienced and respected election professionals in operational jobs could go a long way toward solving our problems.

Don’t waste the Denver Election Commission in this hasty election. Vote “no” on Referendum lA.

Tyler, by the way, has challenged Hickenlooper to a debate on the issue.

“The mayor has vowed to make Denver a model for smooth elections,” she said.  “But he’s taking us in the opposite direction with this proposed charter change.  The voters deserve to hear his argument, and mine.”

As mentioned, Hickenlooper has not been one of the measure’s vocal supporters.

“Even though I don’t think it’s the perfect solution, I am going to support it,” he has said.

Ballots are arriving now for registered voters in Denver. (Look here for more information)

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Kerri Rebresh

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