[Image courtesy of deviantdispatches]
There are lots of interesting stories in the world of elections, but one this week qualifies as different enough that I’m confident I’ve never seen it before – the town of Montezuma, CO is suing every single one of its voters after a controversial election. The Denver Post has more:
Voting is supposed be a right and a privilege. But in the pint-sized, high-mountain town of Montezuma it also has become grounds for a lawsuit.
The town and its novice clerk have filed suit against every registered voter in the town, claiming that an election held last spring had numerous errors. The lawsuit filed in Summit County District Court last week lists errors that include numbers that don’t add up and mismatched ballots that had to be patched together with the clerk’s sewing machine.
The lawsuit asks a judge to command all 61 registered voters in Montezuma to appear in court so the judge can sort out an election mess that the petition calls “fatally flawed.”
The problem, as it often does, stems from a residency dispute in a contested election:
The matter of a town suing its voters began with a highly controversial election for mayor and town board. It was held April Fools’ Day. [Editor’s note: !!!]
In a town of 65 residents where a draw for a short straw used to decide who had to serve as mayor, an unprecedented dozen candidates ran for office.
The hot-button issue that led to this kind of participation involved second-home owners. New Montezuma Mayor Lesley Davis, who was elected by a three-vote margin, claimed that 13 of the voters and at least two of the candidates were not really residents of the town.
“This is our only option to have an objective judge take a look at the election controversy and give us his advice on how to move forward,” Davis said.
Locals say it is easy to tell who doesn’t really live there by the piles of unplowed snow in driveways. Montezuma sits at 10,200 feet, 5 miles up a dirt road from the Keystone ski resort.
The lawsuit states that an investigation by the Summit County district attorney’s office found that at least five voters were not qualified to vote because they weren’t residents.
Even better, one piece of evidence in the case involves the use of a sewing machine (again – !!!):
The lawsuit also cites a number of mistakes in the ballots, including the fact that there were no removable stubs to protect the anonymity of the voters. To try to rectify that, town Clerk Helen Moorman sewed stubs to the ballots but didn’t realize the ballots still contained numbers that gave away voters’ identities. [I blogged about a variant of this issue back in 2012]
The upshot to all the mistakes is that no one in Montezuma knows if the current elected officials were elected properly. No challenge was filed within the 10-day window following the election. Thus, the lawsuit filed by Denver attorney Kendra Carberry. She did not return calls seeking comment.
This is such a remarkable situation that I’m not sure it has any meaningful lesson other than “it sure is unusual for a town to sue its own voters about ballots stitched together with a sewing machine.” That said, you can bet I’ll be keeping an eye on this case as it moves forward.