Decision 2010

Nov 5, 2010 9:05 PM by Zach Thaxton

Some voters say El Paso County term-limit questions confused them

Some El Paso County voters say they were confused by three questions on the countywide ballot, some even going so far as to say they feel intentionally misled by the wording of the measures.

El Paso County questions 1B, 1C, and 1D asked voters to consider modifications to the current term-limitation structure for several county offices, including seats on the Board of County Commissioners.  The wording of question 1C is as follows:

Shall persons elected to the office of county commissioner be limited to three (3) consecutive terms, a modification of the current limits permitted by Article XVIII, Section 11 of the Colorado constitution?

Questions 1B, 1C, and 1D all passed with more than 60 percent of the vote.  Some voters say they interpreted the question as a measure to restrict the number of terms county commissioners and other elected officials can serve, and that's why they voted "yes."  The results of the election mean El Paso County Commissioners, the District Attorney, County Treasurer, Clerk and Recorder, Assessor, and Surveyor can seek and serve a third four-year term.  The previous term limitation was two four-year terms.  The new rules will apply to sitting office-holders.

"This matter should've been worded, 'Shall county commissioners be allowed to serve three terms rather than the current two?'," said Rick Wehner, who describes himself as a county government watchdog.  "My thought is that they purposely sat down and worded this in a fashion to confuse the voters."  Wehner says he's in the process of sending out around 20,000 e-mails and 1,000 surveys by traditional mail to query whether voters truly understood the questions as written.

Colorado College Political Science professor Bob Loevy, who regularly provides impartial analysis on political issues and races for Southern Colorado media outlets, was very candid in his assessment of the wording of Questions 1B, 1C, and 1D.  "Demagoguery is intentionally misleading the voters to get them to vote for something without them knowing what's going on," Loevy said, "and I would say this is an example of initiative demagoguery."

The questions were referred to the El Paso County ballot by county commissioners on a 4-to-1 vote.  Term-limited commissioner Jim Bensberg was the only dissenting vote.  At the time, Bensberg said he felt the questions would further clutter an already-cumbersome ballot.  Commission chairman Dennis Hisey, vice-chair Amy Lathen, and commissioners Sallie Clark and Wayne Williams voted in favor of referring the questions to the ballot.  On Friday, Williams told News First 5 he believes voters understood the questions as-written.  "It was very clear from the language that there were existing term limits.  The language specifically said 'as a modification' to existing term limits," Williams said.  "I think the people looked at the ballot issues and made the decision they thought was best.  I think, under the circumstances, honoring the will of the people is important."

Professor Loevy says be believes voters did not understand the questions.  "It looked as though you were imposing three-term limits on county commissioners for the first time, when in reality you were expanding two-term limits -- eight years in office -- to a three-term limit -- twelve years in office," Loevy said.  "I think a lot of people were misled by the way the ballot title was written."

Wehner says he's trying to contact the Colorado Secretary of State's office to see if there may be any recourse.  The Secretary of State's office spokesman, Rich Coolidge, told News First 5 there is very little legal recourse once the results are validated and certified.  He also said part of the responsibility lies on voters to make themselves informed before voting.  "The voters do have to do some outreach on their own to learn more about some of those ballot questions," Coolidge said.

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