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Editorial: Toxic election tactics

Julie Marshall

10.30.2021

Daily Camera

See the real Bedrooms are for People opposition site here: No on Bedroom$


Something is new and different this election season, and it seems fitting to address it on Halloween.


A few months ago, we were energized by grassroots democracy thriving in Boulder, with three hard-won, citizen-led initiatives reaching the ballot on diverse, interesting and important issues facing our community. Equally exciting were the backgrounds and drive to serve seen among 10 candidates vying for a council seat.


But on All Hallows’ Eve, days before the polling hours, we feel compelled to shine a spotlight on disturbing behavior that if not found criminal, is worth widely condemning as a community at large. We are talking about political tactics more befitting of today’s national political scene than anything seen before in Boulder.


The first instance of wrongdoing was directed toward the official campaign against the Bedrooms Are For People ballot issue. Regardless of what you think about the measure — we endorse it — the struggles that these opposition folks have had to endure are disheartening to say the least.


When this opposition campaign committee went to create a website and corresponding Facebook page to share public information with Boulder voters, organizers discovered someone already made this exact election move using the opposition’s name — People for Real Housing Affordability — but instead began posting pro-Bedrooms information, which was “liked” by visitors. It’s the same name that opponents had weeks earlier registered with the Colorado Secretary of State as a nonprofit. It was a name associated with new emails and an attached bank account for receiving donations.


What this meant was the citizen group had to pick a new name and start over, losing precious time to engage with voters, raise money and build momentum, explains volunteer Lisa Spalding, who personally loaned the group $3,000 to close the gap.

The reason readers may not have heard about this saga is because there has been a real reluctance to speak out, organizers tell us, understandably to keep away the negative attention, potential escalating tactics used against them and to stay focused. Lacking the cyber expertise to figure out who appropriated their campaign committee name (which had been officially filed with the city), they may not ever find out who exactly committed this act of sabotage. They plan to file a formal complaint with Boulder’s election division.

Free speech in Boulder is clearly being chilled by vengeful electioneering tactics using social media. And it doesn’t stop here.


Last week we saw someone had posted flyers around town that disparage City Council candidate Steve Rosenblum, with writing in black ink and bullet points saying he “bribes police officers,” that he “is racist and xenophobic,” and “hates the homeless.”


This caps off an election season for Rosenblum, who shows immense bravery to stay in a race after discovering someone had created a fake election-related website and social media accounts impersonating his campaign — before he declared he was a candidate. Whoever did this falsely attributed to Rosenblum ugly, repellant words regarding vital issues important to voters.


Similar to what happened to the Bedrooms folks, these bad actors or actor stole all the website names and social media accounts that he would have used for his campaign — Steverosenblumforboulder.com, Stevenrosenblumforboulder.com and many other variations — and used them instead to spread misinformation and falsehoods about him.


Unlike the Bedrooms controversy, which has been largely kept in the dark, Rosenblum has been outspoken in an attempt to prevent this from happening to anyone in the future, he says. We can imagine that the negative news surrounding his candidacy, which involves legal action we have been reporting on, may have swayed some voters against Rosenblum, and that would be a shame.


Rosenblum should only be judged on his true, word-of-mouth positions, just as the opposition to Bedrooms should be debated openly in public online as well as at in-person speaking events — safe public spaces where we should all be free to speak our minds and engage in ways that make us better as a community, not worse.

We wonder if perhaps the low turnout of 10 candidates is precisely because of a realistic fear of toxic politics at the national level we now see trickling down to Boulder. Citizens may be afraid to participate in local politics for fear of false and damaging personal attacks.


What we are seeing in Boulder politics is novel and distressing, says Dianne Marshall, Boulder’s election administrator. Marshall offers great advice to voters: “If you read something that doesn’t seem to feel right or be an accurate reflection of a person or a committee, reach out to them directly and take responsibility for what you believe.”

We hear that before this election season got started, a group of politically active citizens created a values document for campaigns and candidates to sign, declaring they would uphold civility and a fair democratic process. There’s no excuse for why some City Council candidates refused to add their names. Given today’s toxic election tactics we hope this document will be revisited, publicly disclosed and supported before the next election.

It feels good to stand up for what’s right, and in two days Boulder residents can speak loud and clear with their votes.


— Julie Marshall for the Editorial Board

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