As Coloradans Wait for Presidential Results, Their Views Differ On Election Integrity

Caitlyn Kim/CPR News
(Left to Right) Melissa Candelarae and Morgan Romero are both Democrats who supported Biden. Romero is not suprised mail in ballots are skewing Democratic.

Coloradans, like the rest of the country, are waiting to hear the final call in the presidential race. But as the process drags on, how they view the wait is increasingly colored by where they fall on the political spectrum.

Pueblo’s Tammy Highberger is frustrated with what she’s seeing in other states. The special education teacher is a Republican and “a very, very proud supporter of President Trump.” She said she believes in the freedoms the founding fathers established, but doesn’t understand why in an age of nearly-instantaneous technology, the presidential election results are taking so long. 

“If you want your decision to be and your vote to be counted, you need to get it in on time. I truly believe that you should not extend it. They should not extend it. They should not change the rules,” Highberger said.

She’s unhappy that “certain States decided to allow votes to come in later — absentee votes — and not match the signatures.”

There's no evidence people voted late or that rules have been changed. Razor-close states such as Georgia and Pennsylvania are just two of many states that are still counting absentee and overseas ballots, and allowing voters whose ballots were rejected to fix the problem. Colorado is not expected to finalize its ballot count until Nov. 13. It's normal for mail ballots to take longer to process, but that has not stopped Trump from lodging unfounded allegations of widespread fraud. So far, judges have dismissed several of the legal challenges mounted by his campaign.

And while Colorado does require signature verification for mail-in ballots, some battleground states do not — either because of state rules or because a court has struck down signature verification requirements.

“The system needs to be revamped to where this cannot ever happen again,” Highberger said. “I pray that President Trump wins this election. I will accept the results no matter which way they go, but I think — no, I know that America is not going to be the same unless President Trump gets in.”

Janet Smith, an unaffiliated voter from Pueblo, shares Highberger’s distrust of the vote-counting process in the closest states. Smith didn’t cast a ballot for Trump in 2016, but voted for him this year because she likes his “business sense” and thinks he has done a good job in his first term. 

“This whole election thing has been a big fiasco. I think the system's broken. I think the fact that each state can do whatever they want and drag this out as long as they want and have ballots appear suddenly and all lean towards one party is actually so ridiculous,” she said. “I think that people are going to be outraged and I'm hoping if Trump gets in, he fixes this because this is bordering criminal.”

In fact, it's normal for states to count ballots for several days, especially so this year given the unprecedented number of people voting by mail.

For John Fryer, a Democrat who voted for Joe Biden, what concerns him isn't criminality, but the number of Trump voters who distrust the U.S. election system. “This is highly unusual. Highly unusual,” said Fryer, who is 77 years old.

“I think it shows that we need to make some changes in America,” he said. “They need to make the entire electoral process uniform throughout all the states, and maybe include some more security so that anybody who makes an accusation is proven wrong right away.”

Democrat John Fryer voted for Joe Biden. The 77-year-old said he’s never seen people “question the validity of ballots."

Under the U.S. Constitution, it’s up to states to set their election rules and procedures. How much say the federal government gets in those processes is a long-running subject of debate in Washington. This summer Republican members of Congress opposed a Democratic election security bill in part on the grounds that it would extend too much federal control over how states run their elections.

On Friday morning, Morgan Romero was getting ready for an outdoor workout with a friend at James Bible Park in Denver. The registered Democrat said she is happy with the way the vote count is turning out. For her it’s no surprise that the mail-in ballots are skewing Democratic, and it has nothing to do with fraud.

“It makes sense, ‘cause a lot of Democrats voted via mail. So the fact that these states are flipping at the last minute, it’s kind of predictable considering that Trump has been telling all of his followers to vote in person, so they’ve already counted most of — I think all of — [the] in-person votes, so now they’re counting the mail-in ballots,” Romero said. 

While she is happy with the election process, she is worried about the potential for unrest once the final results are reached.

“I am a little scared that people are going to react poorly, get out of control because of what [Trump’s] been saying. I mean they truly believe what he’s saying,” Romero said.

Bente Birkeland/CPR News
Jackie Bunker of Berthoud is an unaffiliated Donald Trump supporter. She says she will have no problem accepting the results of the election should Biden win, as long as the “job is done right.”

Unaffiliated Trump supporter Jackie Bunker of Berthoud said should Biden win, she would have no problem accepting the results of the election as long as the “job is done right,” but she is concerned about the “appearance of voter fraud” in certain states.

“I want to see a system where once an election is announced, I can fully believe it. Right now there is a lot of mistrust. We have politicians and media trying to call the election without letting the system finish the job,” she said. “And if it's going to take more time,  then we need to wait, and do the job right.” 

Colorado native Brianna Archibong from Aurora counters that it’s up to the Trump campaign to provide concrete evidence of fraud, and not just make claims at press conferences and on Twitter. 

“I believe in democracy. Every vote should count and everyone who votes should be heard,” Archibong said. "But this ‘calling wolf’ over nothing kind of just falls on deaf ears at this point because there’s been so many lies.”

There is one thing voters from across the political spectrum do agree on: The country’s divisions run deep, and this election has done nothing to heal them. 

“I'm worried about what the future looks like,” said Democrat Mike Cortes of Denver. “I really would like us to be able to disagree in a civil way and be able to work together on whatever we can agree on as a nation and certainly as the state of Colorado.” 

Cortes said the uncertainty around the presidential results is difficult and he urged patience.

“I would like to be able to have friends in both parties, and stay friends, even as we address some really tough issues in the future,” Cortes said.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to add more context about the lack of evidence to support the president's claims of election fraud.