Last week all voting households in Jefferson County were mailed a gray booklet containing the ballot language of Jeffco 1A, along with comments both for and against the measure. But the first …
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The week of Oct. 7 all voting households in Jefferson County were mailed a gray booklet containing the ballot language of Jeffco 1A, along with comments both for and against the measure.
But comments in the "FOR" and "AGAINST" section came from the same household.
The pro-1A comment was written by Rebecca Winning, who has led the Yes on 1A campaign.
Half of the comments listed under the con-1A argument were written by John Gill, who is Winning's husband.
"While he’s a conservative Republican, both he and I have been appalled at the misinformation we’ve been hearing from the opposition to 1A," Winning said when asked about the statement. "We were afraid the con statement would include some of that misinformation, and we wanted to make sure it included some key facts."
MORE: What you need to know about Jeffco 1A
The booklet is required by the Taxpayers Bill of Rights for any upcoming ballot measure changing taxes or tax revenue in Colorado, and is designed to help inform voters ahead of the 2019 General Election.
Mail ballots for that election were being sent out beginning Oct. 11.
The anti-1A statement begins: "The country doesn't need more revenues; it can balance its budget by making further cuts to public safety, roads, bridges and other country services."
The curious language certainly caught the attention of Natalie Menten, who was spearheading the "No Jeffco Tax Hike" opposition campaign to 1A.
"I feel personally insulted," Menten said. "People are reaching out to me, and asking who the heck wrote this."
In fact, Menten's campaign partner Mike Donahue wrote a statement in opposition to 1A, one much more in line with the talking points that their side of the campaign have been using, but his comments were emailed to the county clerk and recorder 10 minutes later than Gill's had been. And so, Gill's comments appear first in the statement.
Anyone who is a registered voter in a county or municipal area affected by a tax or revenue issue on a ballot in Colorado can submit a comment to be included in a TABOR statement, which is then mailed to every home address where there is at least one registered voter.
The law does not require any fact checking, or even spell checking. In fact, Jeffco Clerk and Recorder George Stern says that as long as a bill statement doesn't contain profanity or clear libel, and is 500 words or less, he's obligated by law to publish it.
"By the letter of the law I'm not allowed to assume any sort of intent," Stern said.
Using official voter rolls, Stern said he confirmed that Gill and Winning both shared an address, but under the law, that didn't invalidate Gill's statements.
Menten says she began fielding calls as soon as the gray Jeffco 1A booklet started arriving in the mailboxes of people she knew, angry at the less-than-convincing tone of the "Against" comment. She filed an open records request of the Clerk and Recorder's office to find the author. Through the voter registration rolls, and through metadata in the emailed statement document, Menten discovered the connection to her campaign opponent, Winning.
"The simple issue is that George (Stern) should have never of accepted the (Gill) comment," Menten said.
Specifically, Menten points out that law requires that any ballot comment "shall include a signature and an address where the signor is registered to vote."
In the case of Gill's anti-1A statement, no physical address was given. Stern says he had to compare Gill's name and email address against the voter rolls to certify that he was indeed a registered Jefferson County voter. Meanwhile, both Winning's pro-1A statement, and Donahue's anti-1A statement emails to the clerk and recorder included their home addresses. Winning said it was a simple oversight to not include Gill's address in his submission.
Stern for his part says he did not do anything wrong. He said in talking with other county clerks, and from his Jeffco predecessors, it is common to have TABOR statements submitted online. The author's email address and name is often sufficient to establish their voter registration, and meets the spirit of the law he said.
"The strictest interpretation of TABOR would have had us reject all three statements," said Stern, since none of them included a physical signature.
This is not the first time the TABOR statement system has been used in questionable ways. Memorably, in 2008 an Arvada man submitted a "supporting" statement for a school district property tax increase that talked about plans to give beginning teachers "six-figure salaries" and suggesting part of the extra tax revenue be used to reeducate seniors on a fixed income how to relocate to smaller homes, or to move out of the area if they could not afford the new tax.
Menten has filed a complaint with the Secretary of State's office regarding Gill's statement.
While Stern maintains he followed the law, he readily admits to the weakness in the current system.
"This case and others have shown that if anyone can submit almost anything, that this process doesn't work."
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