Clerk seizes select ballots at end of SOS review
By Teresa L. Benns
SAGUACHE — The ballot review by the Secretary of State’s Office (SOS) ended Wednesday with a surprise visit by Saguache County Clerk Melinda Myers and deputy clerk Renee Hazard, announcing that they had court authorization to remove “identifiable” ballots from select precincts.
Myers entered the Saguache Community Building with Hazard and a Saguache Sheriff’s deputy in tow shortly after the count ended a little before 4 p.m. Wednesday. She told the SOS she had a court order stating that she was able to secure ballots from small precincts where voters could be easily identified.
These were the same ballots volunteer judges had just reviewed and counted in the presence of watchers.
Myers held an envelope in her hand presumably containing the order. But later Aspen voting integrity advocate Marilyn Marks told a few of those observing the review that what was in the envelope was actually the original decision issued earlier this month by Judge Martin Gonzales, remanding the ballots to the custody of the SOS.
Myers and Hazard waited while SOS officials finished their comments on the review to the public before proceeding. SOS officials then packed up the ballots and personally returned them to the courthouse, escorted by the sheriff’s deputy, with no comment on whether or not Myers could lawfully proceed with her plan.
Marks was scheduled to make copies of the ballots on Friday for her own personal review and County Attorney Ben Gibbons already had consulted with Myers and Marks’ attorney Robert McGuire about scanning the ballots. The two lawyers then agreed on a protocol allowing Marks to go ahead with the scan.
After following Myers, Hazard and Democrat Party chair Randal Arredondo into the commissioners’ boardroom at the courthouse where the SOS deposited the ballot boxes, Marks confronted Myers. She told the clerk she shouldn’t begin to sort through the ballot boxes until a Republican judge could witness the opening of the boxes, but Myers said all the Republicans refused to be present for the removal of the ballots.
The Republican judges, however, all left the Community Building shortly after the announcement of the hand count result.
While in the boardroom, Marks reminded Myers that McGuire and Gibbons had agreed to allow her review of all the ballots. At one point, he told Myers she had both attorneys on the line to discuss the ballot seizure but Myers refused to talk to them. Marks tried to object further but was told first by Myers, then the deputy to sit down and remain quiet.
Marks later warned Myers, Arredondo and Hazard that they could all be held liable for illegally breaking the ballot box seals and taking ballots from the boxes without authorization. She was ignored.
Myers told Marks not to worry, that this election was “finally in the rear view mirror” and everyone could move on.
Marks was still watching Myers sort through ballots to find those she wished to exclude at press time Wednesday evening.
Final review totals less than abstract tally
The ballot count ended with totals lower for the races counted than the abstract totals from the Nov. 2 election. Steve Carlson received 1169 votes versus 1187 on the abstract; Linda Joseph received 1193 votes during the review and 1204 on the abstract; Carla Gomez’ tally came to 1155 versus the abstract count of 1166 and Melinda Myers’ count came in at 1217, down 10 from the abstract count of 1227.
The regent races counted during the three-day review all remained the same with Melissa Hart at 1309 versus the 1317 abstract total; Steve Bosley at 820 votes, down six from 826 on the abstract and Jesse Wallace went down to 122 from 124 votes on the abstract.
It was not clear whether over 30 votes discovered by judges, which some believe were never counted, were tallied in with the final totals or not. But he votes for Carlson among these ballots could have shown him winning the commissioner’s race. Nor was it clear how many of these ballots were among those taken from the ballot boxes by Myers.