Words: Catherine Lutz
One doesn't usually think of ski towns as hotbeds of political passion, but judging by data from the November 2012 election, the stereotype of the apathetic ski bum focused solely on powder turns and beer isn't true.
Voters in ski towns turned out at a significantly higher rate than the national average of 58 percent, according to state and county election results. More than 90 percent of active voters turned out in several ski resort-centered counties in Colorado. In Oregon, Mount Hood's Clackamas County boasted an 83 percent voter turnout rate, and more than 80 percent of eligible voters turned out in Deschutes County, which includes Mount Bachelor and other resorts. Voter turnout was also high in Mono County, California, home of Mammoth, Utah's Summit County, and in Montana.
The most politically conscious ski bums apparently live in Pitkin County, Colorado— which is dominated by the four Aspen Skiing Company mountains—and Teton County, Wyoming, whose population accesses Jackson Hole and Grand Targhee ski areas, as well as Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. In Teton County, 96.26 percent of active registered voters officially turned in a ballot on or before Election Day.
"We're just politically motivated here and it's always been that way," says County Clerk Sherry Daigle. "People want to be here because of the beauty and recreational activities, so we're passionate about our surroundings and vocal about protecting what we have. It's very territorial." The county actually ran out of ballots in six precincts on Election Day, Daigle said. "People don't have 'voter apathy' in their vocabulary here."
Voter turnout in the Aspen and Snowmass area was 97.43 percent, exceeding every other election in its modern history (the previous record of 90 percent was set in 2008). That means that only 268 of Pitkin County's 10,413 active registered voters did not take part in the election.
Besides historically being a politically engaged community, county election manager Dwight Shellman attributes the turnout to strong and effective get-out-the-vote efforts in this key battleground state. Republicans were able to get more constituents to the polls than in the past in heavily liberal Pitkin County, where nearly 68 percent of voters punched the Obama/Biden ticket and more than 75 percent said yes to legalizing pot.
"A lot of out-of-town and national organizations had a dog in this fight," says Shellman. "I was seeing voter registration forms from organizations I've never heard of before."
The Aspen area always attracted people who care including those who ski by day and wait tables at night.
"The ski bums in Aspen in the '70s changed the world here, and they're still very much invested, and it's because of those people that Pitkin County looks like it does today," says Shellman.
Mono County Clerk Lynda Roberts thinks that rural people tend to feel more connected to local candidates and issues than their urban counterparts, which—combined with the draw of a tight presidential race—drives turnout.
"In a rural county a few votes can make a difference, so people want their vote to count," says Roberts. Of nearly 6,000 active voters in Mono County, fewer than 100 did not vote.
In Oregon, the larger the county is, the smaller the turnout will generally be, said Nancy Blankenship, clerk of Deschutes County, whose turnout rate of 80 percent was actually low compared to past presidential election years. Still, voter registration grew even through the economic downturn in the resort-oriented county.
But as involved as western resorts are, none beat the turnout in tiny Dixville–Notch, New Hampshire, which distinguishes itself as the first in the nation to cast its ballots. There, at the Balsams Wilderness Ski Resort Lodge, 10 of the hamlet's 10 registered voters cast their ballots at the stroke of midnight on November 6 this year, continuing a 50-plus year tradition of 100 percent voter turnout.