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State review confirms Myers-Joseph win

Posted: Friday, Nov 19th, 2010

Election judge Elvie Samora and Secretary of State official Michael Hagihara examine provisional ballots before running them through the new Saguache County voting machine.

SAGUACHE — A review of votes cast Nov. 2 and an evaluation of the data entries on the computer used to tally the election that night have determined that County Clerk Melinda Myers and Commissioner Linda Joseph won the contested races.

The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office (SOS) sent representatives to Saguache earlier this week to evaluate the election process.

On Tuesday afternoon, SOS officials Michael Hagihara and Amy Wilson, working with County Clerk Melinda Myers and election official Renee Hazard, completed their evaluation of election results from the Nov. 2 and Nov 5 tallies of the Nov. 2 election. Democrat and Republican judges and Republican attorney Ryan Call sat in on the review process.

Call represented Republican candidates Steve Carlson and Carla Gomez, who were announced as winners Nov. 2 in unofficial vote results. He initially contacted the SOS to request the investigation.

Watchers for both parties were allowed to participate. Media observers on Monday were first denied entry into the proceedings, held in the county clerk’s office, on the grounds that the event was not a public meeting and the laws governing public meetings did not apply. The initial decision came from misapplication of a long-standing SOS rule, as well as the belief that the county clerk could exclude media observers at will. There also were stated concerns that voter confidentiality could be compromised.

Ballots are anonymous as guaranteed by the Colorado State Constitution, and rigorous steps are taken in the case of mail-in ballots and provisional ballots to remove voter identity. As a result, there is virtually no risk that ballots can be traced to voters.

Following calls to the Secretary of State’s office Monday morning and Colorado Press Association attorney Steve Zansberg, the decision was reversed and observers from the Center Post-Dispatch and the Pueblo Chieftain were admitted to the election review. Myers warned reporters not to take photographs, despite the SOS rule allowing non-flash photography.

She also advised the media that certain portions of the proceedings could not be reported because of their alleged sensitivity. Nearly all the material reviewed during the SOS process, however, was a matter of public record and can be accessed on request by the general public.

Political parties, unaffiliated candidates and committees promoting any ballot question may appoint watchers, and media observers also are covered by the watcher rules. Candidates themselves, however, may not be watchers. Volunteer citizen watchers also may be appointed to observe the upcoming audit and canvass board activities.  

When a media observer entered the room Monday, Democrat election judge Jessica DuBoe stated that the press was not allowed in the room and must leave. The reversal of the decision was then explained and Call, accompanied by Saguache County attorney Ben Gibbons, checked the state statute books to affirm the decision.

After Zansberg consulted further with the SOS and the Colorado Attorney General’s Office on Monday, it was decided that the vote re-tally should be moved to the commissioner’s room on Tuesday and that photographs would be allowed. In a telephone conversation Tuesday, Zansberg indicated that the confusion was unnecessary and he believed that the interpretation of the SOS rule was unreasonably restrictive.

The count remains unofficial until the canvassing board audits the results and certifies the election. Myers said canvassing is scheduled for Friday and will be conducted by county Democrat Party Chairman Randal Arredondo, county Republican Party Chairman Richard Drake, along with one member each of the library board, Center and Moffat School districts and the ambulance district.

Election advocates note that Saguache County is fortunate to have a larger canvass board than most counties, allowing additional citizen oversight before the count is certified. The canvass board may answer questions from the public and must be able to certify the election without any doubt that the results of the SOS review and the assessment by the voting machine manufacturer, ES&S, resolved the problem successfully.

For the complete article see the 11-18-2010 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 11-18-2010 paper.

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