The Crestone Eagle, November 2004:

State removes Saguache County clerk from election process, absentee ballots mishandled
by David Nicholas

Saguache County Clerk and Recorder Audrey Conley was removed from the election process on Wednesday, October 27. This occurred after the Saguache Board of County Commissioners petitioned to the Colorado Secretary of State, Donetta Davidson to have Ms. Conley removed after many of the 1137 voters who requested absentee ballots in a timely fashion did not receive them.

Judge O. John Kuenhold approved Ms. Conley’s removal after a short hearing where Saguache County Attorney Ben Gibbons filed motions agreed to by the Secretary of State and Ms. Conley.

Mr. Gibbons stated in court, that this was a decision without historic precedent, where a public official was removed from the election process.

Judge Kuenhold was pleased that Mr. Gibbons had made the process a smooth one, with all the details having been decided upon before entering the courtroom. The judge had expected to be sitting in Court late into the night.

Three officials from the Secretary of State’s office, headed by Barbara Pascoe, former County Clerk of Park County, were brought in to oversee the election on November 2. Ms. Pascoe had been brought to observe the August 10th primary in which the Saguache Democratic Party had cited ballot problems earlier.

In the Valley Courier Tuesday, October 26, Sylvia Lobato reported: “McClure said part of the problem came to light when people who had requested . . . absentee ballots hadn’t received them and began wondering why.

“State law requires absentee ballots to be sent out within 72 hours after requests for them have been received.

According to Mr. McClure, Saguache County Commissioner, most of the ballots weren’t sent out, despite claims by Ms. Conley that they were in the mail.

“People then complained to the Post Office, which had not received the ballots. Mr. McClure said he received an absentee ballot despite the fact that he hadn’t applied for one, while his mother, who always voted absentee, did not get the ballot she requested,

“Some Center residents who had asked for their ballots in early October just received them, Mr. McClure said. He said there was no cross-referencing of ballot requests, so election clerks were hard-put to determine which ballots had been issued and which had not.

“Mr. McClure said Saguache County has a large number of persons that vote absentee and the tally may exceed 1,000.

“In addition to the absentee voters, 40-60 persons have taken advantage of early voting to cast their ballots.

“Elections officials in the past have inventoried ballots daily, cross-checking numbers and names and creating an effective “paper trail” for accountability, but Mr. McClure claimed this isn’t being done in Saguache County.

“While the ballots in most Colorado counties are kept in safes or vaults, Mr. McClure said Saguache County’s ballots are in a storage room next to the janitor’s closet.”

Was the error deliberate? Ms. Conley is a Republican, and most of those absentee ballots involved Democrats.

“No,” said Mr. McClure, ”she just didn’t know what to do. At the Commissioners meeting on October 21, we had asked that Ms. Conley draw upon Ms. Pascoe’s experience if she was having a problem. All she had to do was ask. She didn’t do that, and she said, no, she would not.”

So what happens now? While the date to request an absentee ballot ended on October 26, they could be received anytime up until the polls close at 7pm on November 2. If anyone still hasn’t received their absentee ballot by November 2, they may go to the polls and vote a “provisional” ballot.

But before the election is certified, which may take several days to do, all those absentee ballots not verified during the request process, will be verified against voter registration rolls. So winners in local races may not be declared until a much later date.

What will happen to Ms. Conley, as County Clerk and Recorder after all this, remains to be seen, but one county employee commented on her removal from the election process, “Thank God, she didn’t fight it.”

(Valley Courier excerpt reprinted with permission)

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