by Matie Belle Lakish
According to District Judge Martin Gonzales, Saguache County Clerk Melinda Myers must allow Secretary of State Scott Gessler to have access to Saguache County’s voted ballots from the November 2010 election. 31. He plans to recount them the end of August. As promised prior to the hearing, Myers has agreed to follow the Judge’s ruling and turn over ballots. But even as the Clerk and Commissioners sought clarity on the ballot issue, a group of citizens calling themselves the Committee to Recall Melinda Myers as County Clerk and Recorder continue to gather signatures on a recall petition. They hope to put the recall on the ballot in a special election, probably after the November 2011 regular election.
The controversy over the County Clerk stems from the November 2010 vote count, where a discrepancy was found between the first vote count, which was made on election night, and another vote count done on November 5. Following the initial count made on election night, the Clerk’s office noticed a discrepancy in the numbers of votes from District 5 (Crestone/Baca). The Secretary of State’s office was brought in to advise the County and a “retabulation” was done which found 197 votes from District 5 had not been counted in the first round be cause the software used to count the votes had counted mail-in votes twice and left out the polling place votes.
The missing 197 votes cast by District 5 voters was enough to change the outcome of the election. As a result of the retabulation, Myers retained her seat as Clerk, and Linda Joseph retained her seat as Commissioner. A total of four counts were done on the ballots, all using the M650 ballot counting machine, with the same results being found on the last three “retabulations”.
However, a number of citizens continue to believe that mistakes were made in the count, and, along with Marilyn Marks, an Aspen resident who has taken a strong interest in Saguache County’s election, urged Secretary Gessler to bring a suit to force a public recount, preferably a hand count, of the ballots.
As a result of the judge’s decision, Secretary of State Gessler’s office will come to Saguache to count the votes on August 29 through 31. The results of this count will be posted on the this site when they become available.
There is still controversy over whether Judge Martinez’s order allows private citizens to have access to ballots. Myers contends that this could void the secrecy that is meant to surround ballots, especially in counties with small populations and many unique ballot styles, some of them voted by only three voters, and the Saguache County Commissioners have asked for clarification from the judge on whether his order to allow access to the ballots includes releasing them to private citizens, such as Marilyn Marks, who has requested them.
Recall of Saguache County Clerk initiated
In the meantime the Recall Committee is gathering signatures to put the recall on the ballot, as many citizens continue to believe that Myers did not accurately count the ballots and that the Clerk’s office should be run by a different person. They have expressed a lack of confindence in the Clerk.
In their article announcing the recall, the Committee, which is represented by Steven M. Carlson (R), Saguache, John Baker (D) Moffat, and Patricia A. Jenkins (U) Gunnison, quoted one sentence from the final paragraph of the Colorado Statewide Grand Jury investigation of the election, which was completed June 6, 2011. The chosen quote says “Clerk Myers and her staff committed the violations in this report.” It does not note the sentence following, which says, “The Grand Jury found, however, that the election ‘substantially complied’ with the provision of the Election Code.” That investigation also found no discrepancies in the final election count as done on November 5, 2010.
Steven Carlson, who was the Republican Candidate for County Commissioner, and whose apparent success in the election was overturned by the November 5 recount, said that the recall group will be seeking about 620 to 650 signatures, or one-quarter of the votes cast in the County Clerk election in November 2010. If they achieve the required number of signatures, the special election will be held to determine if a majority of voters wish to recall Clerk Myers. For those who vote to recall, there will then be candidates to vote for on the same ballot. There is a 60-day window for gathering signatures, which began in early August and will continue until October 3. If the signatures are deemed sufficient, an election will be set. It is unlikely it will occur during the normal November election cycle, however, so will require a special election. Recall committee members called for a polling place election rather than a mail-in election, and insisted that the election results be hand counted, rather than machine counted.
Commissioners appointed County Treasure Connie Trujillo to run the recall election, as the Saguache County Clerk cannot run it, and no other county clerk was found who was willing to take it on. Some residents from Center objected to Trujillo’s appointment to run the election, as they said she was closely tied to the recall committee. Commissioner Pace said, that given time constraints, Trujillo seemed the best choice, and Pace said he felt she would seek the assistance she needed and would recuse herself, if necessary, from some aspects of the election. In addition, some tasks related to the election will be handled by El Paso County election officials.
A number of citizens attended the Commission meeting on August 2. Proponents of the recall called themselves Citizens for Fair Government. Other citizens objected to the recall, including local residents Vince and Mary Palermo. Vince noted that they “feel this effort is totally inappropriate. The Clerk was exonerated (by the Colorado Grand Jury), that it is an inappropriate use of County money, and has no public benefit.” Michael Garcia of Center, however, said his registration had not been entered into the books, and he had not been allowed to vote. Jennie Sanchez, also of Center, who has often worked as an Election Judge, responded that he was listed at two addresses.
In other news related to the November election, Marilyn Marks of Aspen, who describes herself as a voting integrity advocate, has filed contempt charges against the maker of the vote counting machine used in the 2010 election, Election Systems and Software (ES&S). Judge Martin Gonzales ruled that ES&S could be held in contempt of Court for failing to appear for depositions in the Marilyn Marks vs. Melinda Myers Colorado Open Records Act case. The international company apparently failed to appear to answer questions about how the machine generated some Saguache County election reports. ES&S personnel were on hand to troubleshoot the M650 ballot counting machine on November 15.
An account of some of these election issues can be found on the County website. The Grand Jury report is accessible from the Home Page, while other election-related documents can be found on the Clerk’s page. Please see www.saguachecounty.net