Apr 102005
 
Authors: Ben Bleckley

They fill in bubbles. They fold the ballot. Put it in the envelope. Sign the affidavit. Affix a stamp. Place it in the mailbox. It is delivered to the city clerk, counted, and those who choose to vote make their voice heard.

It is disgusting.

No one should have to pay anything to vote in the Fort Collins municipal election. Not even the 37-cent price of a stamp. That is a poll tax.

Beyond the principle of the thing, many would argue that the 37-cent price for voting is reasonable.

It is reasonable if one has easy access to a post office, stamp vending machine or those extremely convenient Wells Fargo ATMs. It is unreasonable to assume citizens in Fort Collins who don't have a car or bus fare are going to walk to the post office in order to vote.

Some people remember when polling areas were set up across the city for state and federal elections, many more than the five available in November, assuring that every person could walk to their polling place.

That is how I voted in 2002. I walked to Plymouth Congregational Church from Ellis Hall. It took me 10 minutes.

For the primary elections, I had to stop at the Budweiser Events Center near Loveland on my way to Denver. Not quite walking distance.

In November we were lucky enough to get a polling place in the Lory Student Center, but the majority of us can afford a stamp.

Those who cannot afford a stamp cannot afford the gas to hand-deliver their ballot to the city clerk (if they own a car). A few might walk to the city clerk's office

A Colorado statute has allowed Fort Collins to conduct municipal mail ballot elections since 1995.

Likewise, it is Colorado state law that prohibits the city of Fort Collins from providing return postage on ballots in statute 1-7.5-107.

This was deemed constitutional by the Colorado Court of Appeals in Bruce v. City of Colorado Springs.

"Even if a voter was prevented from exercising his or her right to vote because of the lack of a stamp," states the unanimous opinion, "such action does not constitute an unconstitutional poll tax in the absence of a willful intent to deprive the voter of the right by imposing such requirement. Thus, the requirement that the voter affix a stamp to return his or her ballot and thereby cast a vote is not an unconstitutional poll tax."

This argument is flawed, however. While the requirement of a stamp does not purposefully restrict the votes of one cultural group, in practice it deters voting in lower socio-economic classes.

While the relatively low governmental cost of mail ballot elections may make more elections possible and their convenience encourages more citizens to vote, requiring the voter to pay postage is unfair and unconstitutional. The Colorado General Assembly should revise its statutes to provide for postage on mail ballots or return to elections with easily accessible polling places to assure that every citizen who wants to vote can.

 

Ben Bleckley is a senior English major. His column runs every Monday in the Collegian.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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