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Review of Saguache ballots not transparent, citizens maintain

Posted: Friday, Sep 9th, 2011

Judge John Baker consults with fellow judge Mike Cowan at the SOS ballot review last Wednesday concerning uncounted ballots as observer Mary Eberle and judges Randal Arredondo and Ed Nielsen, joined by SOS representative Christy Heppard, look on.

SAGUACHE — The majority of those participating in the hand count of the Saguache 2010 election Aug. 29-31are in agreement that key materials they needed to review in order to determine the cause of election irregularities were withheld from the public.

The count varied little from the initial totals released by the county following the SOS review of the retabulation and the subsequent recount. Most importantly, judges were not allowed to break mail-in ballots into precincts for a close examination or to count Precinct 5 votes as a separate group.

The SOS refused citizens participating as counting judges to perform the following:

• A separate count of all Prec. 5 (Crestone) votes, which Saguache County Clerk Melinda Myers and the SOS determined were overwritten on the M650 software Nov. 2.

• Reconciliation of the ballot inventory (ballots printed, issued, spoiled, mailed, duplicated, etc.)

• Reconciliation of the number of mail ballots to mail-in envelopes with known discrepancies.

• Resolution of incorrect decisions made to exclude votes on provisional ballots.

• Permission for judges to count the controversial Ambulance District race, which won by only one vote. There were numerous suspected ineligible voters who voted in this race and other questionable behavior was never explained.

• Production as requested by judges and others of the Nov. 2 unofficial results and precinct tallies.

• Complete examination and verified inclusion of the overvotes, which one Nov. 2, 2010 Republican judge stated earlier this year were not counted on election night.

Throughout the three-day count, several of the SOS officials who came to supervise were unavailable during much of the process. Two individuals worked supervising judges and but the days were punctuated with many long breaks and frequent phone consults with other supervisors.

During the count two judges — a Republican and a Democrat — expressed disgust about the absolute “mess” they found when trying to sort through the ballots. One judge commented that it was a good indication the county needs another clerk.

On Tuesday, nearly all of the judges threatened to walk out when it became clear that many of the areas of concern in the races in question would not be reviewed. “If we don’t count Prec. 5 and look at that there is no use in doing it,” Judge Ed Nielsen protested.

The judges decided to stay, however, to act as witnesses to what was taking place and further document ballot irregularities.

Toward the end of the review Wednesday Aug, 31 their perseverance paid off when over 30 apparently uncounted ballots were discovered that could have tipped the race to commissioner’s candidate Steve Carlson. Judges said the votes were only partially included in the reported results.

SOS officials appeared reluctant to allow a more in-depth investigation of what happened with the overvotes, taking the word of one Democrat judge for the Nov. 2 election that they were counted. It appears that the votes were never completely reconciled with the final totals.

“I think we found the smoking gun,” judge John Baker said Wednesday when the overvotes were first examined. But later SOS elections official Wayne Munster announced that the ballots had been counted Nov. 2 and would not be added to the new count.

“They could never have reconciled those ballots to the final count,” judge Lisa Cyriacks said. Some judges left early Wednesday, frustrated that no headway could be made with SOS officials who consistently refused to allow the level of transparency promised citizens prior to conducting the review.

While officials were considering how to proceed with the overvotes, Saguache County Clerk Melinda Myers stormed into the review on the afternoon of Aug. 31with deputy clerk Renee Hazard waving what appeared to be a court order, saying she was seizing ballots form selected precincts.

SOS officials and a citizen volunteer asked to examine the contents of the envelope, but Myers refused. Later it was discovered that no new court order was ever issued.

Myers arrived while SOS officials were studying the overvotes. The confusion created by her arrival sent them running to phones for consults with upper level SOS officials.

During the hubbub, Myers confiscated the overvote envelopes from a judges' table. In the end when the SOS gave their final report on the count and delivered totals, the overvotes were not included.

Concerned Saguache County voters object that until they are able to examine these problem areas, the “citizens review” is only just a meaningless sixth count of the election results that once again fails to address the fundamental flaws they have been protesting all along. “Where’s the transparency?” several observers wondered out loud at different times during the review. One Saguache woman called the entire process a “joke.”

They continue to maintain that until the performance of the M650 voting device and its operation by Myers’ office during the election is thoroughly investigated by objective, qualified experts, their doubts cannot be dispelled.

Marks scans ballots

On Friday, Marks began her ballot scan in the commissioner’s boardroom at the Saguache County Courthouse. Myers and Democrat counting judge for the Nov. 2 election, Jessica Duboe, supervised her as she worked. Marks said the clerk was cooperative and she will be allowed to scan all but a few of the ballots.

Last month, Saguache County Commissioners asked Judge Martin Gonzales whether Aspen election integrity advocate Marilyn Marks would be allowed to view the ballots. Apparently the answer was in the affirmative.

Myers held out seven overseas ballots, 11 mail-in ballots and eight polling place ballots. Later Marks discovered that Myers had mixed in early voting ballots with mail-in ballots, an act some hold as illegal.

Marks will not complete her ballot scan until later this month, When she has finished the analysis of her scan, Marks said, she will make the results available to the public.

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