Voting is off to a bit of a slow start in La Plata County, likely because residents are taking their time with a complicated ballot that includes tax questions, a property rights question and many contested seats.
As of Friday morning, 7,077 ballots had been returned, or 19 percent, of the 37,933 ballots that have been mailed to voters, said La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Parker. That is about 15.4 percent of the 45,949 active and inactive voters in the county, she said.
The rate of return is about 500 ballots fewer than it was at this same time during the last midterm election in 2014, Parker said.
This year’s ballot has 13 statewide questions compared with four in 2014, she said.
“People are taking their time because they have time and they are wanting to do a little bit more research,” she said.
Of the 7,077 ballots returned, 2,773 were by registered Democrats, 2,327 were by Republicans and 1,878 were by unaffiliated voters. Voters registered with a third party accounted for 99 of the ballots returned.
Statewide, 468,366 ballots had been returned as of Friday morning. Of those, Republicans had returned slightly more ballots, 168,065, compared with Democrats, 162,906.
Republicans and Democrats have been knocking on doors and working the phones to bolster voter turnout, La Plata County party officials said.
The economy, property rights and homelessness are among the issues driving local Republicans, said Jim Harper, vice chairman for the La Plata County Central Republican Committee.
Health care, public lands and climate change are some the main issues for Democrats, said Shauna Agnew, first vice chairwoman of the La Plata County Democrats.
One ballot question sparking particularly strong interest is Amendment 74, a statewide question that would require government to award compensation to private property owners when a government law or regulation reduces the fair market value of their property.
“There is a real dialogue and a real true healthy debate on 74,” Harper said.
Judy Spady, an unaffiliated voter, said she supports the amendment because it will protect property owners from eminent domain.
“We need to save our private property rights in this country or we are not going to have anything left,” she said.
However, Kristen Johnston, a Republican, is staunchly opposed to the amendment because she believes it could lead to an increase in taxes to cover the cost of reimbursing landowners.
“I will not vote for any tax increase ever,” she said.
For county Democrats, replacing U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, has been the main focus for about two years, Agnew said. Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush, a former representative in the Colorado Legislature, is running against Tipton.
If Democrats took control of the U.S. House of Representatives, it could help restore some “sanity” to the federal government, she said.
“It’s hard to get up every morning and see what’s happening,” she said.
For Democrat Melissa Stacy, climate change is the No. 1 issue ahead of the election this year because it will have a long-term impact on her, her children and grandchildren, she said.
She would like to see national policy to address climate change because it is too large of a problem to address based on individual efforts, such as growing a garden or driving a Prius, she said.
Electing Democrats to Congress is one way to address climate change, she said.
Kent Baxstrom, a Republican, said he is concerned about federal policies around immigration and securing the nation’s borders.
On the state level, he said he supports Proposition 110, a measure that would increase state sales tax to fund state and local transportation infrastructure.
Traditionally, highways are funded largely by gas tax, but it is time for a new revenue source for roads, he said, because state infrastructure has not kept up with population growth.
“Our roads are the same roads we have had for 30 years,” he said.
The La Plata County sheriff’s race is also drawing interest from county voters.
Baxstrom said he plans to vote for Charles Hamby, a Republican facing incumbent Sean Smith, a Democrat, and Dean Mize, an unaffiliated candidate.
Baxstrom, who lives in unincorporated southern La Plata County, said he disagrees with Smith’s handling of the homeless population in Durango. Smith stopped enforcing a camping ban during the last couple of years, saying homeless residents have a Constitutional right to sleep in public places if no shelter is available.
“I feel like we need a change in the direction of the sheriff’s department,” Baxstrom said.