by Jen Bell

The aftermath of accusations against the Saguache County Clerk for the handling of the 2010 election has many people wondering what happened. Now the Colorado State Attorney General has gotten involved to sort it out.

In an attempt to understand what happened in the Saguache County 2010 election, the Secretary of State (S.O.S.) sent Division of Election representatives to investigate in November. Election laws and regulations are lengthy and can be confusing, so the Division of Elections was created in the S.O.S. office to provide experts for the election process. After issuing a report in December that summarized their take on the Saguache 2010 election, the S.O.S. has remained publicly silent.

Complaints that were filed by individuals with the District Attorney, were, due to a possible conflict of interest, bumped up to the next level, to the Attorney General’s office. The Attorney General has initiated an ongoing investigation into the claims.

Michael Jones with the Attorney General’s office, came to Saguache County to investigate on February 24th & 25, meeting with Myers and staff and other involved parties to collect evidence.

Allegations that incumbent County Clerk Melinda Myers falsely certified the election, and that election laws and regulations were violated, were brought to the Secretary of State’s attention back in November. The S.O.S. sent staff members from the Elections Division to Saguache on November 15 “to assist the Saguache County Clerk and Recorder’s Office with conducting a physical count of the total number of ballots cast during the 2010 General Election.” In response to the Canvass Board’s second report to the S.O.S., the Election Division reps concluded with, “As the Division worked with the Saguache County Clerk and Recorder’s Office to complete a report addressing the complaints from the Primary Election, Division staff observed a number of County processes and procedures that were not in compliance with election rules and state statutes. However, the issues identified during the 2010 General Election cycle can be addressed and corrected through election worker training.” Since this report, the Secretary of State has not responded with any public statements.

Unsatisfied, six citizens filed complaints in early January with the District Attorney David Mahonee. Matt Hildner, with the Pueblo Chieftain, reported that Mahonee felt there would be a conflict of interest if he investigated the claims, because a candidate in the Clerk’s race, Carla Gomez, is an employee in his office. Mahonee forwarded the complaints to the State Attorney General. Mike Saccone, Attorney General spokesman, confirmed last month that they were investigating the complaints. In a recent email, Saccone states, “The investigation is ongoing. It would be premature to speculate as to the final conclusions or end result of the investigation.”

Myers acknowledges that there were oversights and glitches in the election, but stands firmly stating, “We did a really good job. We had some technical problems that we worked through, but we had experts that figured out what happened. The S.O.S. came down and they concluded the numbers of the November 5 re-tabulation to be true and accurate.” In response to the Canvass Board’s letter of decertification the S.O.S. stated on November 23, “[…] we at the Division of Elections are confident that no more ballots were counted than were voted.”

According to Myers, the Clerk’s office is ready to implement a number of positive changes in election proceedings to ensure that voter integrity is upheld. Clerk Myers states on the Saguache County website, “We have already taken steps to correct any oversights in this election, and will be ready to implement these for the 2011 election.” “Specific examples of improvements include the formation of a Citizen Elections Advisory Committee and a thorough testing of our new ballot scanning machine.” She also plans to expand the pool of volunteers involved in the election process, to foster a more thorough knowledge of the election process.

According to the Clerk’s office and their dealings with the Attorney General, the AG’s plan is to “assemble all the testimony and documents, and bring it before the State Grand Jury, a sitting jury that meets every Thursday. It will be their job to examine the evidence and do one of three things: 1. Determine that something is in violation of state laws and issue an indictment [or] 2. Determine that nothing is there and drop it [or] 3. Issue a report that explains what happened to set the record straight.” On April 28 the Clerk’s office will go to Denver and answer any questions the jury may have. If the jury chooses to issue a report, it will probably be in May.

The Saguache 2010 election has reached from a rural community to the higher government of Colorado. Many people wait anxiously for the results of the Attorney General’s investigation. Others can not wait, and push for further action on the part of a grand jury.  The final report of the AG’s office will have a far-reaching effect on the integrity of future elections in Saguache and in Colorado.