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Questions linger following election canvass

Posted: Thursday, Mar 28th, 2013

Center Clerk and Treasurer Christian Samora and Center Municipal Judge James Sanchez count ballots during the canvass of the March 19 Center election Monday.

CENTER — Although the election canvass totals matched the votes cast for Center’s March 19 recall election, questions remain on why the canvass was conducted without checking mail-in ballot signatures against the State’s SCORE system.

Town Clerk and Treasurer Christian Samora and Center Municipal Judge James Sanchez conducted the canvass, counting ballots, but not the actual results of the various races.

Recalled candidates John Faron and Moe Jones requested, last week ,that during the canvass the signatures be checked with the system to verify that those who signed the ballot were those who received it in the mail. This comes after reports of rogue ballots being circulated by the recall committee in Center and several challenges made during the election process by watchers.

Center Town Attorney Eugene Farish agreed that federal law allows the signatures to be compared with the originals, as did the Secretary of State’s office, and Farish told Jones and Faron last Friday that the signatures would be checked during the canvass this week. But on Monday the canvass was set up without any prior notice or intent of performing the signature comparisons.

“After looking at the laws over the weekend, Christian didn’t feel like he had enough evidence to conduct a signature verification,” Farish said. “The election official had to make that call.”

Samora stated during the canvass Monday that he did not have to comply with the federal law because the check was optional. When asked if this was true even if challenges were made and irregularities noticed Samora replied that it still was not necessary. Others reported that prior to the canvass Samora commented that performing the signature checks would simply create too many “problems.”

He also indicated that someone from the town had spoken to the Colorado Municipal (CML) League, a lobbying group, about the signature verification and was told by CML’s legal department that it was not necessary. When contacted, a CML spokesperson familiar with the situation said that no formal legal opinion was given the town by CML on the matter in question.

Watchers Margaret Faron and Cindy Jones asked Samora at the end of the canvass if he was going to examine any of the challenges made and he indicated he was not. Jennie Sanchez and Adeline Sanchez, and their attorney Shelley Wittevrongel told Faron and Jones that they couldn’t challenge anything once the election was over. Samora explained that some of the votes that appeared to be illegal were actually votes that were not counted, but Jones objected there were still others who voted illegally.

Jones requested the Center voters list from Samora last Wednesday but did not receive a copy of the documnent until Monday morning.

Jennie Sanchez stated that people who own property in Center, pay taxes to Saguache County and register their cars in Saguache County can vote in town elections even if they do not live in the town itself. Others familiar with election laws say this is not the case, and Farish says it must satisfy a certain complicated composite of factors for each individual. Sanchez accused those questioning the residency requirements of trying to deprive voters of their right to vote.

Jones asked Jennie Sanchez why those running against recall candidates were discriminating against non-hispanic board members. Adeline Sanchez replied that the accusation was “garbage” printed in the Center Post-Dispatch,

At the end of the canvass, around 2:15 p.m., Samora announced that the newly elected board members and mayor would be immediately sworn in. This was done even though Moe Jones had until Tuesday afternoon to file a recount request, and had actually mentioned to Samora that he would be filing one.

Samora said he was told by CML that the waiting period before the swearing in, despite the recount was only a formality and could be waived. Traditionally the swearing in has not taken place until after the next regular board meeting, (April 2) or the completion of any recount, according to laws governing municipal elections. Others dealing with such legal matters maintain the swearing–in was not valid under the municipal code.

The CML spokesperson said Monday that there was no discussion with the town of swearing in new board members with a recount request period still running and that no legal opinion was given on the matter.

“I have to assume that Samora was pressured by those promoting the recall to swear in the candidates as soon as possible,” Attorney Farish said.

The rearrangement of the canvass date without prior notice, the refusal to acknowledge the existence of election irregularities and the obligation of investigating those irregularities, the swearing in of new board members before the deadline had expired to file a recount, the delay in providing requested documents, the approval of the ballot as it stands — all were irregularities existing in previous Center elections and in the 2010 election in Saguache County, conducted by then County Clerk Melinda Myers.

At that time, Samora was employed by Myers in the clerk’s office and ran the software programs that allowed the county to download vote results from the M650 voting device then used by the county. Following a grand jury investigation of the clerk’s office, Samora resigned and later was hired as Center’s clerk and treasurer.

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