Stealth Elections


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Return of the stealth election in Colorado by Bob Ewegen

© 2006

Methods of vote rigging are seemingly endless. The following articles describe one common method that was tried again in 2006.

April 15, 2006 — An old Colorado political institution, the stealth election, is trying for a comeback in Aurora, Colorado, on May 2, 2006.

Such elections were fairly common before passage of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights in 1992. Municipalities, school districts and special districts enjoyed great leeway about when to set a special election. Some used that leeway to tilt the playing field heavily in favor of their proposals, calling for the vote at a time when most citizens could be expected to ignore it. Meanwhile, the natural constituency in favor of such a plan would be mobilized in hopes it would dominate the low-turnout election.

Such shenanigans were supposedly eliminated by TABOR, which required most such elections to take place at regularly scheduled times. There is, however, a loophole that allows special service districts to hold elections at times of their own choosing. The city of Aurora is not a special service district and could not have held an election on May 2. But backers of the Aurora Mental Health Centers sidestepped that problem by creating an Aurora Mental Health Special District that happens to have exactly the same boundaries as the city but technically is a separate governmental unit. As such, it is seeking a 0.2 percentage point sales-tax increase on May 2, 2006.

Aurora Mayor Ed Tauer isn't happy about the end run around the election rules, noting that the new tax would give Aurora the second-highest sales tax in the metro area, behind only Westminster, raising the combined sales tax in the Arapahoe County portion of Aurora to 8.3 percent. In the Adams County portion, the tax would rise to 8.75 percent.

Supporters of the tax say the increase amounts to just 2 cents on a $10 purchase. But the total tax would be 83 cents or 87.5 cents on that $10 purchase. Tauer fears that could drive some business away from Aurora to lower tax jurisdictions or tax-free Internet sales.

Randy Stith of the Aurora Mental Health Center, told The Denver Post's Jeremy P. Meyer that the tax increase is needed because the agency serves about 6,000 clients a year and up to 50 percent of that number is uninsured. Carol Ann Reynolds, director of Colorado's chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, explained that Colorado's budget crisis forced major cuts in funding for the mentally ill.

Mayor Tauer agrees that "Colorado needs to have a serious statewide conversation about mental health and how to fund it." But he quickly adds that "a low-turnout election in just one city is not such a conversation."

Instead, Tauer believes the stealth election issue has shifted the debate from whether the tax is justified to whether this particular election setup is fair to the taxpayers. Tauer said:

"There could be a very light turnout. There are just six polling places, one in each city ward. But it's not like a voting center, where you can go to any one to vote, you have to go to the right one for your ward. Here's the kicker — out of the six polling places, four are at Aurora Mental Health facilities.

My concern would be a very light turnout with people who happen to go to the mental health site for services that day — a natural constituency for a 'yes' vote — dominating the result.

Mental health centers can't be called impartial sites. It's like having to go to the police union to vote on an issue affecting the police."

Worst of all, Tauer said, the notices that went to voters didn't tell them which ward they lived in, a fact many voters don't have at their fingertips. If you' re an Aurora voter, you can find out what ward you' re in by calling Sharon Works at the Aurora Election Commission at 303-808-5678. If you leave a message, be sure to include your telephone number along with your full name and address, including ZIP code. Really.

The polling places are:

• Ward 1 — Martin Luther King Library, 9898 E. Colfax Ave.

• Ward 2 — Aurora Mental Health Center, Leversee Building, 1290 Chambers Road.

• Ward 3 — Aurora Mental Health Center, Alameda Center, 10782 E. Alameda Ave.

• Ward 4 — Aurora Mental Health Center, Viewpoint Plaza, 11059 East Bethany Dr., Suite 200.

• Ward 5 — Aurora Mental Health Center, Hampden Center, 14301 E. Hampden Ave.

• Ward 6 — South Branch Library, 15324 E. Hampden Circle.

If you' re a registered voter in Aurora, make sure your voice is heard on this important issue May 2.


Bob Ewegen is deputy editorial page editor of The Denver Post.


Aurora election official charged in wake of canceled election by Javier Erik Olvera


© 2006 Rocky Mountain News

This time the stealth approach failed but it will be tried again.

April 29, 2006 — The woman appointed to oversee an abruptly canceled special sales tax election in Aurora was charged Friday with violating election laws.

Sharon Works, who had no experience running an election before Arapahoe County District Court Judge Michael Spear assigned her to the post nearly two months ago, faces up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Works couldn't be reached for comment. She was issued a summons to appear in court on May 26 th .

Works is accused of not keeping a list of names of eligible voters applying for absentee ballots, the dates the applications were made, the dates the absentee ballots were sent and the dates they were returned.

Arapahoe County District Attorney Carol Chambers filed charges against Works after an investigation into 11 complaints from voters, who said they hadn't received their absentee ballots for the election that had been set for Tuesday, May 2, 2006.

The Aurora Mental Health Center, which was asking for a 0.2 percent sales tax increase, called off the election Thursday.

Election opponent Lynne Cottrell was shocked by the news of the charges against Works, and said she thinks the 62-year-old was caught off-guard when voter interest in the election ballooned.

"I think she was a victim, quite frankly," said Cottrell, former chairwoman of the Arapahoe County Republican Party. "She was in over her head." [EJF note: Now gross incompetence qualifies one as a "victim." How ridiculous can victimology become?]

Criticism of the way the election was being handled escalated this week when Aurora voters complained that they had to drive to Works' Thornton home [in Adams County] to pick up an absentee ballot if they missed the deadline to request one by mail.

Although only residents of Aurora could vote, Works set up the election headquarters in the living room of her ranch-style Thornton home where a dozen people labored to send out 3,500 absentee ballots.

Earlier this week, Works said she "had no idea there would be this volume of interest" in the election. Had she known, Works said she "wouldn't have run the election from my house."

The proposed tax, which would have amounted to a penny on every $5 purchase within the city of Aurora, would have brought in an estimated $8 million that would be used to offer psychiatric services to roughly 2,000 people who lack medical insurance.

Efforts to block the election mushroomed amid allegations that AMHC intentionally tried to hold down voter turnout by, among other things, sending out election mailers only to likely tax supporters.

The fact that four of the six polling places were in AMHC facilities provided more ammunition for opponents.

Spear signed an order canceling the election at the request of the AMHC's board, which was concerned the controversy had overshadowed their goal of providing services to the uninsured.

AMHC, with help from the city of Aurora, will begin forming a committee to discuss whether the sales tax proposal should be put before voters during a future election.

AMHC officials did not return phone calls Friday seeking comment.


Aurora election official could face fine, jail by Jeremy P. Meyer


© 2006

The official missed the deadline for mailing absentee ballots, which contributed to canceling the mental health sales tax vote.

April 30, 2006 — Problems with absentee ballots helped kill a sales tax election last week and got an election official in trouble with the law.

Sharon Works, the designated election official for the Aurora Mental Health Tax vote, on Friday was given a misdemeanor summons that alleges she failed at her job.

The summons was one more blow for a campaign that sought to raise sales taxes 0.20 percent to pay for mental health services. On Thursday, officials canceled the election that opponents called a stealth campaign to raise taxes.

Political analyst Bob Loevy said that in his 38 years in Colorado he cannot recall a big-city election being canceled.

"This is kind of an unprecedented event," he said.

Colorado law says a list should be kept of everyone who requested an absentee ballot and when the ballots were mailed out.

Works, 62, faces a maximum penalty of probation, a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. She didn't return calls Friday.

Paul Tauer, former Aurora mayor who led the opposition to the vote, said the episode was a shame.

"I know she screwed up," he said. "I don't know that it was intentional. I just think it's unfortunate that this whole thing has come to this."

A complainant, Ellen Thomas, 69, of Aurora, said she never received an absentee ballot that she requested on April 19. She needed one because she is scheduled for jury duty.

Thomas asked twice for the ballot and Thursday received an envelope in the mail that said it contained a ballot, but it didn't. She contacted the district attorney.

"It makes me very angry because I wanted to vote," Thomas said. "There are five of my neighbors who requested absentee ballots and not a one of us got it. I realize a mistake can happen, but she really must have gotten over her head."

Works on Thursday said the election "was truly overwhelming."

She received 4,000 requests for absentee ballots. At midnight Wednesday, Works missed a deadline to mail the last several hundred. Opponents say they didn't know absentee ballots would be such a problem.

"We did push the absentee ballots," Tauer said. "It wasn't something that was devious. We were trying to get people a way to find a way to vote."

The tax increase — about a penny on a $5 purchase — sought to raise $6.4 million a year over 10 years. It would have given Aurora one of the highest sales taxes in the metro area.

The money would have been used to set up a court for cases involving the mentally ill, train police on handling troubled offenders and help schools deal with mental health issues.

Opponents claimed the election was set in May so fewer people would vote. They were angry that four of six polling places were mental health facilities.

Lynne Cottrell, the Arapahoe County Republican Party's immediate past chairman, opposed the election and worked with a group to defeat it.

The group last week was certifying poll watchers. Opponents sent Works a certified letter asking about the election — how provisional ballots would be handled, how the ballots would be counted and when the ballot boxes would be opened. The group hadn't received a response as of Thursday.

"We were in total darkness about the election," Cottrell said. "If they had won, we were going to file an injunction because we have so much proof of impropriety."

Aurora City Councilwoman Molly Markert, who voted in January with the majority of council to allow the election, said it was a botched campaign.

"They had no idea how complicated an election is," she said. "Elections are sacred. This country stands for respecting that. When you botch that, even if you are naive, understaffed or underfunded, it's going to trigger people's animosities, big time...They were just overwhelmed."


Staff writer Jeremy P. Meyer may be reached at 303-820-1175 or



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| Vote Fraud and Election Issues Book | Table of Contents | Site Map | Index |


| Chapter 12 — Voting Problems In The 2006 Elections |

| Next — Arkansas: Report On Primary Meltdown Rips ES&S by Warren Stewart |


Added 4/30/06

Last updated 6/14/09