Citizens challenge SOS plan, discover ballot irregularities
Modified: Friday, Sep 2nd, 2011
BY: TERESA L. BENNS
SAGUACHE — The review of the 2010 ballots, won by Sec. of State Scott Gessler last month began in Saguache Monday, with a core group of volunteers offering to serve as judges and observers for the hand count.
Judge Martin Gonzales ruled in Gessler’s favor Aug. 11 allowing the SOS to view voted ballots, which Gonzales determined “may be subjected to public inspection.” His ruling shot down Saguache County Clerk Melinda Myers’ contention that such a review would violate voters’ rights to secrecy.
Directives for the review issued by the SOS last week did not preclude the counting of mail-in ballots separated out into precincts. But Jessica Duboe, Democrat judge for the Nov. 2 election told the SOS that the mail-in ballots were not sorted by precinct and indicated they should not be disturbed. Duboe added that she was speaking as a representative of the clerk’s office.
The group peppered Secretary of State’s Office (SOS) staff with questions about how the review should be conducted and what should be reviewed. They protested that the votes cast in Prec. 5 (Crestone) have been in question since the election and since they were largely mail-in, should be counted as a precinct in order to decide if the Nov. 5 “retabulation” of these votes following the discovery of the error was accurate.
Wayne Munster with the SOS’ elections division told those gathered at the Community Center in Saguache for the review that his office has the Nov. 2 results of the election which many indicated they would like to use for comparison in figuring out how conflicting totals can be reconciled. But Munster could not confirm the totals were broken out by precinct.
Press members and others experienced difficulty Nov. 2-3 in obtaining the unofficial results of the election. Some observing the election activities believe the precinct totals were printed out but were never made available to the public. Clerk Myers has consistently refused to provide the Nov. 2 precinct totals, claiming they are irrelevant because of a software error that overwrote files, requiring the retabulation.
The SOS assigned teams to citizen volunteers Monday and began sorting out the ballots. Citizens asked the counting activities be delayed until their questions could be answered but Munster and communications officer Andrew Cole simply stated that the directives issued for the review by the SOS last week must be followed.
“We’re responsible to the public,” Cole said. “We came with a plan and we are executing it.” Cole kept repeating that the entire purpose of the review and the lawsuit that preceded it was to “restore voter confidence” and establish “verifiability and transparency” concerning the election process.
Former commissioner’s candidate Steve Carlson objected that not examining the mail-in ballots and failing to establish a standard using the Nov. 2 election results was not consistent with the SOS' goals of transparency and verifiability.
Ballot boxes and other elections materials were transported from the clerk’s office and volunteers were ordered to put ballots in batches of 30 and wrap a count sheet around each batch. Volunteers worked throughout the day Monday until shortly before 4 p.m., so that the ballots could be returned to the clerk’s office before the courthouse closed.
Saguache County citizens were joined by Boulder residents Bill and Mary Eberle from Coloradans for Voting Integrity, who came as watchers to observe the event. Press watchers from the Center Post-Dispatch, Pueblo Chieftain and Denver Post were freely allowed to observe the process and take photos.
Before the actual vote count began Tuesday, volunteers gathered to finish the question and answer session cut short on Monday. Carlson began the discussion, saying that citizens “continue to have concerns about the [SOS] agenda, the availability of the Nov. 2 results, which could be critical to the process,” and counting the mail-in ballots by precinct.
The issue of recounting the ambulance district was raised, although the SOS plan states that this district would not be counted. Cole said that the Canvass Board “resolved it,” but he was reminded by Marks that the Canvass Board said it could not be resolved owing to numerous discrepancies in the information on the race examined by Canvas be conducted and the SOS’ interpretation of its own plan, pointing out that if the SOS’ intent was to restore voter confidence, openness and transparency, this could only be accomplished by examining the Nov. 2 totals, the mail-in ballots by precinct and the ambulance race.
Discrepancies and mystery ballots
District Judge Gonzales came to swear in the volunteer judges before the count began. During the counting process, several ballot irregularities were discovered by volunteers and analyzed by SOS staff.
In opening the ballot boxes, volunteers discovered that only two of the three boxes had the necessary seals attached. None of the seal logs were where they were supposed to be, watchers observed. Counting judge Duboe and another individual, while possibly trying to trying to locate unvoted ballot stock, opened the ballot boxes March 30.
One of the four teams counting ballots discovered more signatures than ballots. Another team found several ballots with white out covering votes, different inks used on the same ballot and marks that appeared to be made by felt tip markers which had bled through to the other side of the ballot.
Another team found what seemed to be an entire batch of provisional ballots that had not been opened or reviewed. Some 10 ballots were discovered that had votes made only for Joseph and Myers and no other candidates. The SOS said that these votes were valid, although they did disqualify one vote cast for Linda Joseph found by another team that was unverifiable.
Some ballots apparently were missing and there was confusion concerning a set of odd provisional ballots, all blank, cast in Precincts 7, 8 and 9. One voter signature had been cut from a provisional ballot out of another pollbook and taped over a signature of the same person into a different pollbook. “We have no idea what happened there,” Marks said.
“What a debacle,” another volunteer commented. “More signatures than ballots, different colored inks — it’s a mess.”
Center resident and volunteer Mike Garcia shook his head and said there were several issues that needed to be addressed and resolved. Saguache resident Tina Serna agreed with Garcia, expressing concern over ballots that were obviously marked over or colored in with different inks.
SOS official Christy Heppard told volunteers at day's end Tuesday that they made "a lot of progress," would complete counting mail in envelopes on Wednesday and would match signatures with ballots. Ballots cast by armed forces members also will be examined Wednesday as well as some spoiled ballots, she added, but emphasized that the ambulance race would not be recounted.
For the complete article see the 09-01-2011 issue.