November 4th, a ballot measure in Aurora, Colorado that would have repealed the ban on dogs who are over 50% “pit bull” failed to pass.
On the surface, this seems to be a disheartening loss. A lot of hard work was put into educating the public about the ban on a shoe string budget, and hopes were high that this would be the first repeal to happen by popular vote. Ballot measures of any kind are complex creatures, with many factors contributing to the outcome. It was an uphill battle from the start, but, when the bottom line is examined, we come away with a message not of failure, but of hope and success.
The first issue advocates for breed neutral laws had to contend with was the time frame. The ballot was brought up for discussion by the city council 2 months before they officially created the measure. City council must vote to put an issue on the ballot and the language of the ballot. This means that groups in the area had a scant 90 days to develop and deliver their message.
Repeal had been a long running discussion in the community. The issue had seen some significant media coverage even before the ballot came up. The media and council were told by Aurora Animal Control that the ban was working and that bites in the community had been reduced, though they neglected to provide any data. The actual data, obtained via a request to the city attorney, tells a very different story.
A detailed analysis of the data from Brent Toellner, KC Dog Blog, shows the same story that is clearly illustrated in the above chart. Bites have increased in Aurora, overall, by 77% since the bans inception (details provided in the link). This pivotal fact was neglected by every single media outlet that reported on the issue. It is very clear that animal control was presenting “facts” to support the ban, instead of those that would inform the public.
Not only was Aurora Animal Control playing the part of spin doctor to cover the bans failure at protecting residents, they have also failed at breed identification.
Aurora is one of the few places where DNA testing is codified in the law. Because of this, we can see exactly how good animal control is at the job of identifying “pit bulls.” 76% of the time, dogs being targeted under the ban are not covered under the wording of the law. 76% of the time, resources in the form of man hours and money are wasted on dogs that are unlucky enough to look the part. This information was also readily available via the city attorney’s office, but, yet again, both animal control and the media neglected to mention, even once, how abysmal the breed identification track record is.
In the 90 days before the ballot due date, local groups conducted a grassroots campaign to inform the public about the ballot and the ban. Director of ColoRADogs, Nancy Tranzow, stated that many people believed the ban only affected dogs who were actually vicious, and were unaware that dogs that had done nothing wrong were being confiscated and killed. When it was explained how these laws impact innocent families, many people changed their opinion of the ban. The issue of property rights did not seem to affect opinions, stated Tranzow. This stands out because according to a focus group conducted by Luntz Global, at the behest of Best Friends Animal Society, the issue of property rights featured strongly as one of the most effective arguments.
So what happened with the ballot itself? Aurora operates mostly on mail in ballots and voters are responsible for postage.
The language of the ballot was deceptively simple. “Shall the people of Aurora adopt an ordinance allowing pit bulls back into their city?” This would appear to be a good thing, particularly after the issue of the Miami ballot measure language, which was so confusing many people claimed they voted the wrong way. Experts on the legislative process and ballot initiatives say otherwise. Many point out that overly simple language on a complex issue leads people to make uninformed decisions. So instead of opting out of voting on something they are not familiar with, a person will vote based on “feeling, not fact” as Councilwoman Molly Markert so aptly put it.
“It’s not about a fact, it’s about a feeling.” Should public safety be about a feeling? This question should not even have to be answered. The answer should be so self-evident that the question would never have to be asked. Unfortunately, Aurora finds itself at the mercy of feelings and not facts. The beautiful thing about facts, however, is that they always win out in the end.
So lets look at the facts:
-Aurora’s ban had not reduced attacks.
-Those tasked with the implementation of the ban cannot identify what they are trying to keep out of their community and yet they continue to insist this thing they can’t identify is much more dangerous than other dogs just by being.
-Informal polling in mid-September showed only 24% of people were for the repeal and (according to the count at the time of this posting) 35.2% actually voted to repeal. This percentage increase in the span of roughly 45 days is remarkable. Though some pro-BSL blogs are saying that the vote was 22,719 to repeal the ban and 92,898 to keep the ban, this is untrue. The official count for the measure at the time of this post is 34,284 votes for repeal vs 62,953 against. These numbers have changed several times, with the number of votes for repeal, creeping up steadily.
Polling roughly 45 days before the vote showed 24% for repeal. That turned into 35.2% of voters for repeal. This is something that should be highlighted. There were 90 days to reach a community of almost 350,000 people, a part of which had no idea that there is a ban in place. In 45 days, advocates increased support for the repeal and not only increased support, but increased the number of people who were willing to vote to change it in a quantifiable way. Fact, not feeling.
The repeal failed. This is a fact. It is also a fact that education works to change minds. It is a fact that the people working for the repeal were effective in their methods. They worked professionally and ethically in the face of bullying, cyber stalking and harassment by the out of state pro-BSL lobby. They worked diligently in the face of childish name calling, liable and blatant bigotry against them as individuals by so-called victims advocates. They stood up and spoke up for the betterment of the community and they most certainly are not stopping just because feeling won this round.
Fact will win out.