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Give them the right to vote

With a special election in the town of Pagosa Springs set for April 23, and a Monday registration deadline looming for unregistered town residents who want to vote, the topic of voting rights looms in the background.

Here, we make a suggestion related to elections to a town council that is the focus of the election and that has often been under the gun, facing considerable criticism. The suggestion is that council make a move that is practical, with considerable public relations value.

A letter in this week’s SUN highlights the voting rights situation. It is from an individual who owns property in town but, because he resides outside town limits, is unable to vote in the upcoming special election — one important for residents, for the future of the town’s political system, and for out-of-town owners of real properties located in town.

The writer’s claim that he should have a right to vote in the town election is not unique. Similar claims have been made many times in the past.

The writer is not making the untutored argument often advanced by those who live in unincorporated Archuleta County and bemoan the fact they are not allowed to vote in town elections when they have an interest in an issue. They do not, and should not, have the right to vote in a municipal election simply because they believe town elections affect their interests. That’s not the way Colorado law works. If you want to vote in town, move to town.

Or, if things are put in right order, own real property in town.

On April 23, town voters will be asked whether they, and not the council, should determine if proposed amenities are installed on Reservoir Hill. The creation of the election was fueled by the widely held opinion that elected officials have not performed effectively and that a decision on a proposal with profound potential impact should not be left to those officials. Much of the strongest opposition to the Hill proposal comes from people living outside town limits. They want to vote.

They can’t.

But, we believe the situation can, and should, be changed concerning individuals who own real property in town.

This is a different case. Those owning real property in town have an immediate and concrete interest in town affairs and politics: their livelihoods are verifiably affected by decisions made in town elections.

We believe town council and town government can make changes that allow anyone with at least a 50-percent ownership interest in a property within town boundaries to vote.

Colorado is one of 10 states that have responded to the needs of real property owners wishing to have a vote in the municipality in which their properties are located. Colorado authorizes municipalities with at least 2,000 residents to extend, by charter, the right to vote on all local and municipal matters. The law has been invoked by a number of towns and villages in the state, to give owners of real property the right to vote provided they have held at least a 50 percent ownership interest (fee title) in the property for a specified period of time.

We believe a similar move is possible in Pagosa Springs, given its Home Rule charter — or that the charter can be changed to allow the move. We believe the right of real property owners to vote should be granted as soon as possible.

Now, however, it is time for town residents not currently registered to vote to do so. The deadline at the county clerk’s office is 4 p.m. Monday. Each vote is critical.

Karl Isberg

This story was posted on March 21, 2013.