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5 years before voting may not be long enough

Letter from Jim Ludwig

Essay in July edition – August 1997 – Colorado Central Magazine

5 years before voting may not be long enough


I am intrigued by Christina Nealson’s advocating a five-year probationary, non-voting period for all new residents to our small mountain communities.

Forty seven years ago this Wisconsin native married into Colorado in the mining town of Climax. For the first six or seven years, I was referred to as “Frank Cerise’s son-in-law”. Not in disrespect, but as a matter of fact.

Eight years later when I moved to Buena Vista with my family, we became simply a family from Climax. When I talked to a neighbor about gardening, I quoted an opinion of another neighbor and was told, “What does she know, she’s just a newcomer.” I learned she had been in Buena Vista twenty-two years.

We did our school duties, joined a service club, became active at St. Rose, worked with the Scouts and Little League, learned to garden well, and laid the groundwork for our native species nursery.

Fifteen years ago, after a forced absence, we returned and I knew it was okay when a long time local shopkeeper said, “Glad to see you back, we’ve missed you.” Looking back, I would now question if I really understood this little community after five years, and importantly, did they understand me?

Christina hopes that most newcomers would leave the community if they did not fit into the truly rural scene. We should be so lucky. It is my observation that after five years, many are flush with their success in changing the newly adopted community to another suburb and in finding loopholes in local laws which were often based on common sense and the trust of a handshake.

Hopefully, a requirement of five years residency to be eligible to vote on local issues would help this problem.

What about the newcomers who decide not to leave, nor to adapt, yet by common opinion are not really desirable citizens? We could try the ancient practice of shunning, used by such fine people as the Amish. The shunned person simply is not recognized as existing at all. Shunning must be unanimous, which is nearly impossible, but has been effective in continuing a non-modern society for the Amish. The shunned person is allowed to leave without rancor. The Amish have been able to form a society without cars, telephones, electricity or running water. I went to grade school with some of these fine people, (most now have their own schools). Of course at the time we also lived without a phone, electricity, or running water.

A few problems here. One is that the shunnees will soon outnumber the shunners, and they become the surviving community. Another is that the old society depends on the new for economic survival. Those quilts and furniture aren’t hand made and sold just for fun. More importantly, shunning is nearly impossible to do. Try it sometime.

Another approach could be to go the currently popular way of using “standardized tests”. Each new resident could be required to know the location of all local high lakes and spend at least one year on the local search and rescue unit. Another year as umpire of Little League or soccer referee (Believe me, you will get to know parents.) should be required. A little time with planning and zoning; local sewer and water always need volunteers. It wouldn’t hurt to join a church.

I’m sure Uncle Billy’s administration could come up with standardized, pass or fail tests to be given after years 2, 4 and 5. All who fail could be tarred and feathered, then ridden out of town on a rail.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

Jim Ludwig Buena Vista