Imagine conducting an election where an entire neighborhood is not mailed ballots, and then the results are so close that the disenfranchised voters could have changed the outcome of the race.
That’s what happened when I ran for the board of the Parker Water and Sanitation district in the May 3 election. And that’s why I went to court to stand up for my rights and the rights of these disenfranchised voters, and to ask that the court order a new free, fair and supervised election.
Here’s the story.
About 48 hours before the polls closed, Parker Water announced that — oops! — it had failed to mail ballots to a neighborhood of 62 homes, with 96 eligible voters. In the current vote count, those 96 potential votes are nearly four times the margin I am behind the longtime incumbent who is in third place. The top three vote getters will be elected.
If you were among those 96 voters, what did you have to do to exercise your right to vote? You were required to obtain a ballot in person, mark the ballot and then submit the ballot in person — all within 24 hours. All other voters had weeks to return his or her ballot.
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Not only is that unfair, but it also suppressed turnout since few people are going to go through the onerous exercise required to cast a ballot in such a rushed, narrow time period.
The leaders of the district have expressed little remorse, or even basic concern, over disenfranchising an entire neighborhood of people they are supposed to be serving. This conduct is not a complete surprise given the fact that the district has been operated with little transparency or accountability for many years.
In fact, this is the first competitive election the district has held in a decade. If you run elections only every 10 years, it’s no wonder that the gears may be rusty.
The shoddy operation of the election also shows that the district needs increased oversight and accountability. The current board funded the construction of a $52 million luxury headquarters building but hasn’t invested in acquiring new water resources that surely will be needed in the increasingly arid — and growing — Denver metro region.
Some might say it’s just an election for a local water board in the suburbs. Why the fuss?
A safe, reliable, and affordable water supply — for decades into the future — is the fundamental foundation of life, and the ability of any community to exist and flourish. Just read the daily headlines and see the challenges that our water supplies are facing here in Colorado and throughout the Western U.S.
Admittedly, who serves on your local water board doesn’t get much attention. But the decisions these elected officials make — short term and long term — have the most profound implications for your future, the local economy, and your quality of life. You turn on your kitchen faucet or the shower and just assume water will flow out. That basic function happens only with a competent and forward-looking local water provider.
This is why I ran for the board and why I am saddened at the incompetent conduct of the election. If Parker Water can’t figure out which neighborhoods are in its service area to be able to ensure that all voters receive their ballots and then conduct an election with integrity, transparency and accountability, how can we trust it with the massive responsibility of providing water security?
In America, elections matter, even those in small jurisdictions that garner little public attention. But small elections can have big implications, and no election should be countenanced where an entire section of a community is disenfranchised, whether through incompetence, indifference, or malfeasance.
As a U.S. Army veteran of the Cold War, I was assigned to defending West Berlin from the communist Soviet totalitarian regime. I traveled through Check Point Charlie regularly and used my German language skills to talk to many East Berliners about their lives. They never had a meaningful election, as their leaders gave them no opportunity for reform. I will always fight against any governmental system that fails to provide for transparency and a fair election. “No taxation without representation” is the very basic concept upon which America was founded.
Parker Water seems OK with taxing these 96 Americans but denying them ballots. I’m not OK with that.
The botched Parker Water election is a sterling example of why citizen scrutiny and accountability are critical for our democracy to function.
Kory Nelson of Parker was a candidate for the Parker Water and Sanitation District board in the May 2023 election.
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