The “for” and “against” statements printed in the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights pamphlet that registered voters receive about proposed tax increases are opinions compiled from voters’ letters sent to the governing jurisdiction.
One Monument voter objects to the opposing viewpoint that’s presented for a bond issue Lewis-Palmer School District 38 is seeking on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Monument resident Derek Araje says he does not support the bond measure and thinks not enough of his opposing views were included in the “con” summary statement.
“’Against’ statements that made it in actually sound like they’re for the bond,” Araje said. “That’s an egregious misleading of the public.”
The district “followed the letter of the law,” in compiling the statements, said D-38 spokeswoman Julie Stephen, adding that many of Araje’s sentences can be found in the final objection statement.
“Every comment that was entered to our designated election official was represented in the summarization on both sides,” she said, “and the language was not changed other than a pronoun to make it neutral, so it was accurately summarized according to the law.”
Araje takes issue with two of the “against” letters being written by a couple who are part of Strong D-38 Community, a registered political action committee that’s promoting the bond.
“They wrote against statements, but they are for the bond,” Araje said. “The sole purpose was to mute statements of people who are genuinely against the bond.”
Not true, says Jackie Burhans, who submitted a statement of opposition but is listed with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office as the designated filing agent for the Strong D-38 Community committee, which favors the measure.
Burhans said she and her husband wrote opposition comments because they knew other voters were writing statements in support of the measure, and they wanted to ensure there wasn’t a repeat of what happened last year.
The district received just one letter in favor of a similar D-38 bond initiative for the November 2018 ballot, but because the person was in the military and had not completed the Colorado voter registration process, the comment was ineligible. Therefore, no “pro” statement appeared in the TABOR pamphlet.
One “con” statement, which Araje had submitted, was printed. The measure failed last year.
The process, in place since the origins of TABOR that requires a public vote on taxes among its provisions, does not provide for checks and balances or fact-checking of what is submitted and printed in the pamphlet.
Clerk and recorders’ offices do not verify or confirm the comment summaries nor take responsibility for potential errors.
“We’re kind of like the general contractor,” said Angie Leath, director of elections for the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder’s Office.
Under the 1992 TABOR Amendment to the state Constitution and revised statutes, any eligible registered voter in living in an affected district can submit up to 500 words in support or opposition for a proposed tax increase.
The person has to be willing to provide a name, home address and signature, Leath said.
The designated election official for the jurisdiction — which for school districts is usually the secretary to the board of education — then summarizes the points in the letters to derive the pros and cons.
“The comments are unified and summarized,” Leath said. But, “It’s people’s opinions.”
Stephen said D-38 received four letters for and four letters against this year’s bond proposal, which seeks $28.985 million to build a new elementary school in Jackson Creek.
Property taxes would remain at the current rate if the bond passes; if it fails, taxes would be lowered by $35 per $400,000 worth of home value.
Stephen said much of the statement Araje submitted for consideration can be found under the “con” statement in the TABOR pamphlet for D-38 voters, including “Their delusion is shocking.”
Araje said the final statement says nothing about a years-old community debate about what to do with a defunct elementary school that’s now used for storage and some meeting space.
Stephen said Araje mostly asked questions about that topic in his submitted comments, and that issue is not part of the bond proposal.
Complaints have surfaced over the years about the pro and con statements.
A lawsuit emerged from the 2004 election against then El Paso County Clerk Bob Balink. One voter claimed another voter had tendered “fraudulent, dishonest, counter-productive and malicious statements” in purporting to oppose a Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority tax increase, and that such statements were “meant as sabotage to undermine the credibility of the opponents, to antagonize readers into supporting the measure by the use of absurd, phony, contradictory comments against it, and to preempt part of the 500 words” that opponents were allotted.
The plaintiff lost the lawsuit and an appeal.
“As I read it, it noted that it was not possible for a designated election official to impinge on the commenter’s freedom of speech and that the Legislature could always modify the statute if they wanted to change the rules,” Burhans said in an email.
Stephen said TABOR pamphlet statements “aren’t handed down from on high, they are compiled by folks hoping to give a neutral statement from people’s opinions.
“The bigger issue is we’re bickering about people’s opinions.”