Mail-in vote blurs the lines |

Mail-in vote blurs the lines

Postal Service spokesman: Campaigning at post office illegal

Mike Lawrence

— Routt County’s first mail-only election is forcing elections and Postal Service officials to take a closer look at election law and oversight.

On Thursday, county election officials fielded several calls from residents concerned about whether candidates are permitted to campaign on U.S. Postal Service property.

Alex Turner, a Postal Service consumer affairs manager based in Denver, said federal regulations prohibit candidates for elected office from campaigning on post office property.

Specifically, Section 124.54 of the Post Office Manual states: “Soliciting alms and contributions, campaigning for election to any public office, collecting private debts, commercial and nonprofit soliciting and vending (including, but not limited to, the vending of newspapers and other publications), the display or distribution of commercial advertising and soliciting of signatures on petitions, polls, or surveys on postal premises (except as authorized by 39 CFR part 259) or impeding the access to or egress from Post Offices are prohibited.”

Turner also said local postmasters were responsible for overseeing the activities at their post office branches. Steamboat Springs Postmaster Tim O’Brien could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland said although her office has no jurisdiction at the post office, she is in contact with postal officials this election season.

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“We worked with the post office pretty extensively, asking that mail ballots get top priority handling, that kind of thing,” Weinland said Thursday.

Weinland emphasized that the all-mail election does not convert local post office branches into de facto polling locations.

“It’s not a polling location because we don’t issue or receive ballots at the post office,” she said. “Mail service is something that we don’t have any control over.”

Election law prohibits candidates and anyone else from electioneering within 100 feet of a polling place. But if the post office, where many voters now pick up and drop off their ballots, is not considered a polling place, then electioneering restrictions aren’t thought to apply.

Colorado’s electioneering law states: “No person shall do any electioneering on the day of any election within any polling place or in any public street or room or in any public manner within one hundred feet of any building in which a polling place is located, as publicly posted by the designated election official. As used in this section, the term ‘electioneering’ includes campaigning for or against any candidate who is on the ballot or any ballot issue or ballot question that is on the ballot.”

Despite the apparent lack of legal restrictions from campaigning near a post office, Steamboat Springs lawyer Mark Fischer sent an e-mail to the seven City Council candidates Thursday evening suggesting an informal agreement that no candidate campaign in the block surrounding the downtown post office or in the immediate vicinity of the Sundance at Fish Creek shopping center post office branch.

“The post offices have become places to ‘vote’ or cast a ballot, in effect, and I think these places should be off-limits to campaigning by informal agreement,” Fischer wrote in the e-mail that also was sent to the Steamboat Pilot & Today. “When I go to ‘cast’ my ballot by mailing, I would consider it unseemly to walk past candidates or supporters with flyers and brochures and the ready handshake and smile and a ‘please vote for me.’

“Please consider this self-imposed restriction, and I thank you for your service to this community,” Fischer’s e-mail concluded.

Other issues

Weinland said most election-related questions have involved a change of address. She urged voters with new addresses, or any mail-ballot questions, to visit the Elections Office on the third floor of the Routt County Courthouse.

“We got two trays back today of ballots that could not be delivered because the addresses were not correct,” she said. Voters “can get a replacement ballot until 7 p.m. on Election Day.”

– Brent Boyer contributed to this report.

Election 2009 dates and tips

– Ballots have been mailed to all active Routt County registered voters. If you’re an active voter and your voter registration information is current, you don’t need to request a ballot. The U.S. Postal Service will not forward ballots. If you haven’t received your ballot by Wednesday, call the Routt County Elections Office at 970-870-5558.

– Oct. 27 is the last day to request that a ballot be mailed to you.

– If returning your ballot via mail, only normal, 44-cent postage is required.

– There are five drop-off locations in Routt County for voters to submit their completed ballots: Routt County Clerk and Recorder’s Office, Yampa Town Hall, Oak Creek Town Hall, Hayden Town Hall and the Clark Store.

– All ballots must be received by 7 p.m. Nov. 3. Voters should not mail their ballots after Oct. 29.

– Voters will receive ballots specific to where they live. For example, South Routt residents won’t receive ballots because there are no contested school board races or city elections there.

– Questions? Call the Elections Office at 870-5558.

– Electronic voting is available at the Elections Office for disabled voters or any voter who chooses to vote electronically.

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