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Water Conservancy District election ordered for July 10

Brief by Central Staff

Water – May 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

Despite a challenge from the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, there will be an election for one director’s seat.

The voting will be on July 10 at a polling place in or near Buena Vista, according to an order issued after a hearing on April 5 by District Judge John Anderson of CaƱon City.

Anderson normally appoints directors to the water district board, but state law allows residents to petition for an election.

The petitions must be signed by at least 10% of the registered voters, and Citizens for Water Integrity, a Chaffee County group calling for an end to “taxation without representation,” submitted petitions with 615 signatures to Anderson.

The petitions concerned the Division 3 (same boundaries as the Buena Vista school district) seat now held by Gary Merrifield, whose term expires on June 1. That division had 4,929 registered voters at last count, and thus 493 valid signatures were required to get the court to order an election.

UAWCD challenged 146 signatures as being invalid for various reasons, and thus an “evidentiary hearing” was held before Anderson on April 5. If all the challenged signatures had been thrown out, only 469 signatures would have been left, not enough for an election.

Some signatures were challenged on account of the address, such as “Deer Trail Road” instead of the “County Road 261D” that appears on the county voter registration list.

The hearing focused on 54 petitions which had been misdated by a notary public in Buena Vista when she witnessed the circulator’s affidavit. If those were found valid, then there would be enough valid signatures, and there would be no point in examining the other 92 challenged signatures.

Anderson heard testimony from Hazel Pflueger, who circulated the petitions, and Shay Ellis, who said she hadn’t flipped her day calendar on a busy Monday morning, and thus wrote “January 26” when she should have written “January 29” when she notarized two petitions.

In his ruling, Anderson said he had never seen a perfect petition. The rights of the people to petition have to be balanced against protecting the public from fraud and collusion, he observed. This was merely a mistake, with no evidence of fraud or collusion, and so the signatures were valid and an election must be held.

What kind of election? The water district wanted a mail-in ballot, while Citizens for Water Integrity wanted a regular polling-place election conducted by the county clerk’s office.

After conferring with attorneys for both sides on April 6, Anderson said there was no statutory authorization for a mail-in ballot, and gave the Conservancy District until May 4 to come up with a plan for conducting the July 10 election with ballots cast at a polling place.

Although water conservancy districts have been around since 1937, and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs has 50 districts on its master list, this will be only the fourth such election in Colorado history. The other three were the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District in Greeley in 1980, and the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District in 1999 and 2000.