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County pushes for speedy decision on election appeal

Feb 21, 2012 - By Martin Reed Staff Writer

An attorney representing Fremont County government wants the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to render a decision in ongoing debate about commission election districts.

It's been almost a year since the appeal was filed.

In documents filed Jan. 23, lawyer Scott Detamore of the Lakewood, Colo., based Mountain States Legal Foundation asked for the Denver court's decision within the next month to avoid complications with the upcoming election season.

The county followed the federal ruling to conduct the special election in January 2011 that elected three commissioners using the single-member districts.

"Should Fremont County prevail on the merits of this appeal, it proposes to conduct the 2012 elections for the two remaining seats on the Board of County Commissioners in accordance with its own proposed districting plan as presented to the district court and adjusted for the 2010 census changes," according to the request.

Lawyers for the county, along with the American Civil Liberties Union's Voting Rights Project, presented arguments in front of a three-judge panel March 9.

Alternatives

The county is appealing a 2010 decision by Wyoming's U.S. District Court that picked single-member districts for the five-seat commission to give American Indians a fair opportunity to elect their candidate of choice.

A ruling determined American Indians could not pick their candidate of choice in the Fremont County Commission election and created five single-member districts, halting the at-large method.

The county is arguing the judge overstepped his authority in failing to pick one of two proposed alternatives that includes one district for American Indians to elect their commissioner and at-large voting in the other district encompassing four commissioners.

Another alternative involved residential districts that require candidates to live in a specific area but maintains at-large voting throughout the county except for the American Indian super-majority district.

Time to prepare

The county's recent request to the appeals court expresses concerns about time needed to prepare for the upcoming election season.

"Deadlines for the primary election for county commissioners are rapidly approaching, and, because there has not yet been a decision on the merits, and thus a determination on what the county commissioner districts will be, it will become extremely difficult for the County Clerk to meet these deadlines without creating significant complications if this Court does not quickly issue its decision," according to the request.

March 9 request

Fremont County Clerk Julie Freese wants to start implementing a plan for the commission election by March 9, "after which time she will not be able to do so for this election cycle," according to court documents.

"If there is no decision forthcoming quickly, then the County Clerk, to meet these primary deadlines, will have to proceed to the election based on the commissioner districts presently in place, as ordered by the district court, adjusted for the 2010 census change," according to the county's motion.

"If this court should, thereafter, reverse the district court and hold that Fremont County's proposed remedial districting plan should have been implemented by the district court, it places the County Clerk in a difficult quandary concerning how to proceed, as well as how to handle the 2014 elections," according to the document.