Box of Stashed Ballots Could Invalidate Contested Broomfield Election

January 8, 2014
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Broomfield officials now admit finding a box containing about 75 ballots that for unknown reasons were not counted

Broomfield officials now admit finding a box containing about 75 ballots that for unknown reasons were not counted

BROOMFIELD – In the wake of lawsuits and complaints against Broomfield for attempts to cover up and ignore problems in the error-riddled November election, city officials now admit finding a box containing about 75 ballots that for unknown reasons were not counted or reconciled to the voter records.

Broomfield election officials plan to open the “Pandora’s Box” on Friday at 10 a.m. in the Zang Spur Room of the city and county building. Even if uncounted eligible ballots are found, Broomfield City and County Attorney Bill Tuthill said that won’t change the election results because they were certified.

But others disagree and contend that could be grounds to invalidate the election. And a Broomfield District Court judge barred the election certification in December.

“These materials were not included among any of the materials reviewed or included in the original count or the recount,” admitted Tuthill in response to litigation filed by plaintiff Broomfield Balanced Energy Coalition (BBEC).

BBEC opposed a measure to impose a 5-year ban on hydraulic fracturing used in oil and gas exploration. The ban was reportedly failing on Nov. 5, but passed by 13 votes after provisional and out-of-state ballots were counted.  The close margin triggered a mandatory recount that turned up an extra 19 ballots, and resulted in the measure passing by 20 votes.

“Mr. Tuthill may claim that newly found ballots will not alter the vote count, that is exactly what an election contest does when evidence is presented to the court,” said Marilyn Marks, an election integrity advocate who has challenged Broomfield’s election process.

She said that the 75 or more ballots cast by voters which were not processed, counted and reconciled far exceeds the narrow 20-vote margin victory of the controversial fracking ban measure.

“This election cannot be verified and will not withstand the scrutiny of the court, particularly with the addition of this sudden discovery of more ballots,” declared Marks.

City Manager Charles Ozaki informed Broomfield Mayor Randy Ahrens and city council members on Jan. 2 of a mysterious box containing an estimated 75 ballots reportedly stashed in Election Manager Michael Susek’s office.

“We have not counted them but believe there are fewer than 75 in total,” said Ozaki in an email disclosing the problem.  Two ballots were reportedly in unopened envelopes.

“After cursory review, staff believes that all but two of these ballots are either:  1) ‘un-voted,’ meaning without marks indicating voter action; or 2) ‘spoiled,’ meaning the voter made mistakes sufficient to request a replacement ballot, which would have been tracked in the official election database,” said Ozaki.

Unknown is where the ballots came from, why they were tossed in a box, who had access to them and why they were not properly processed – even spoiled ballots are processed and documented to reconcile election records. Blank ballots are processed through the voting machines and accounted for.

The box of ballots is the latest quirk in questions about the integrity of the Broomfield election. Records also indicate that Susek or a city employee repeatedly logged into the ballot accounting database as the administrator and downloaded vote tallies repeatedly for two weeks before the Nov. 5 election.

“If there are any unspoiled, voted ballots among the election materials in the box, it might alter the number of legal votes that may have been improperly rejected,” said Tuthill, but it won’t change the “certified” recount.

“The canvass board completed its work and certified the results of the recount on Dec. 5,” asserted Tuthill. “At this point in time, no ballots can be added or subtracted… the parties can learn whether there exist and eligible, voted, unspoiled ballots that were not included in the ballots counted during the original election or the recount.”

That statement appears to conflict with a ruling made by District Court Judge Francis Wasserman who issued a temporary injunction on Dec. 10 requiring Broomfield County Elections Department to “withhold certification of the election recount results regarding Question 300.” A hearing on the issue is pending.

The recount certification was signed by two of three Broomfield Election Canvass Board members – Candelarie and Canvass Board Joan Stern-Murahata, who worked on the campaign for the fracking ban.  Canvass Board member Marty Robinson refused to sign the recount certification.

Broomfield election officials have been accused of numerous election violations that were detailed in a scathing report by Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s office.  Last month, Marilyn Marks of Citizen Center filed a detailed complaint with the Secretary of State’s office and two lawsuits were filed by BBEC.

On behalf of Broomfield, Tuthill filed a lawsuit against Marks to block her access to public election records. The case was heard Monday by Wasserman who allotted 10 days for the both parties to file summary arguments.

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