This election is apt to go down in history as one of the most contentious and deceptive on record, considering the shameless ads flooding our mailboxes and TV screens.
So perhaps we shouldn't be surprised to find an example of political cunning embedded in the ballot itself, thanks to the El Paso County Attorney's Office.
At issue are the county's questions — 1B, 1C and 1D — dealing with whether to extend term limits for the district attorney, county commissioners and other county officeholders. Sheriff and coroner aren't included; voters previously altered term limits for those offices.
Each ballot issue asks if the officials in question should be "limited to serving three consecutive terms, a modification of the current limits permitted by Article XVIII, Section 11 of the Colorado constitution." Note the question doesn't mention the measures would add a four-year term to the two-term limit already in place for state and local elected officials.
Four years ago, the wording was different on county term-limits measures that sought to add a term for the clerk and recorder, treasurer and sheriff. Those measures asked whether voters should "have the right" to elect those officials "to a third consecutive term beyond the current limitation of two consecutive terms" pursuant to the Colorado constitution. (Emphasis added.)
The difference is no accident.
"The 2006 questions were not successful," County Attorney Bill Louis unabashedly explains in an e-mail.
(He's wrong, of course. The 2006 sheriff's measure was successful, and Sheriff Terry Maketa is seeking a third term this election cycle.)
"Accordingly," Louis continues, "my office considered examples from other counties that had been successful and we incorporated those into the 2010 question. I can't think of any reason to write a referred measure unless you want it to be successful. Otherwise it is just taking up space on a ballot."
Commission Chairman Dennis Hisey says he and Commissioner Amy Lathen, both of whom stand to gain if the commissioner measure is passed, worked on the wording with Louis. "We were looking for something that was succinct and had been successful before," Hisey says.
Measures that served as a model were from Weld County, where the measure said simply, "No person shall serve more than 3 full consecutive terms," and Arapahoe County, where the question began, "Shall your rights, as an Arapahoe County voter, be restored to elect candidates of your choice to the office of Arapahoe County Commissioner by lengthening the term limits for that office by one additional term".
Jim Bensberg was the only commissioner to vote against sending this year's measures to voters, saying they had enough decisions to make already.
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