‘We Got Lucky’ That Missing Mesa Ballot Situation Wasn’t Worse, Elections Chief Says

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
A ballot flies through a verifier machine at a Jefferson County elections facilty in Golden, July 1, 2019.

The case of the missed Mesa County ballots is a new one for the man who oversees Colorado's election systems.

"We've never seen an example in our recent state history of a time in which so many voters' ballots were not countable," said Judd Choate, director of elections at the Secretary of State's office. "We got lucky that this error did not put us in a position where one or more of the electoral outcomes was in question."

The situation was discovered last week, when election workers went to collect the first round of presidential primary ballots from the drop box in front of the clerk's office. Inside they found an unwelcome surprise: 574 uncollected ballots from the last election.

"What we believe, and that's not confirmed yet until we pull the video, is that the team that went out to collect the ballots locked [in] the drop box but did not in fact collect the ballots," said Mesa County clerk and recorder Tina Peters shortly after the discovery.

None of the county races were decided by a close enough margin for the discovered ballots to change their outcome. The election has already been certified by the state and those results will stand.

"It's a very much a disappointing and sad day for me to see that there was a failure in part of the process," said Peters. "You can have all the processes in place and there can still be, unfortunately, human error. And that's what happened in this case."

2019 was the first election for Peters in her role as clerk. The former businesswoman won the job in 2018 against a long-time employee of the clerk's office. Since news of the discovered ballots came to light, the Grand Junction Sentinel has called on Peters to resign.

When it comes to future elections, the county plans to have a second set of bipartisan election judges do a final check of all drop boxes, to ensure no ballots are overlooked. Peters has also asked the Mesa County Commissioners to let her double the office's four person elections staff, but the Sentinel reports commissioners rejected that request, in part because the office currently has unfilled positions.

For its part, the Colorado Secretary of State's office has sent Dwight Shellman, county support manager, to Mesa County to train staff and observe early voting operations and ballot tabulation for the upcoming presidential primary.

"There are some things we'd like them to tighten up," Choate said, but overall "we feel pretty good that Mesa County will be able to carry off a quality election in this primary and future elections."