Outside manager appointed to oversee Pueblo primary after ballot misprints

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Secretary of State Jena Griswold certifies 2020 Colorado election results in a conference room near her office. Dec. 8, 2020.

Updated at 2:30 p.m.

A state-appointed manager will oversee the primary election in Pueblo County after the Secretary of State’s office received numerous complaints about ballot printing errors.

While an investigation is still ongoing, Secretary Jena Griswold’s office has already concluded that about 1,600 voters’ ballots were missing a commissioner’s race, while ballots for one precinct in Pueblo West had the wrong state House race listed on them, according to a press release announcing the appointment. 

Local election officials have acknowledged the errors and say they are working to fix them. They plan to fully cooperate with the newly-appointed manager, said Rebecca Packard, the legislative and policy assistant for the county’s elections office.

“We are continuing to do our jobs,” Packard said. “And we welcome this assistance.”

The errors were caused by a printing mistake, Packard said. 

When ballots were being set up in the county’s system this spring, the Pueblo County District 3 race was erroneously listed only for residents living in District 3. In Pueblo County, all races are at-large, meaning any county resident should be eligible to vote in the race. 

Elections officials became aware of the mistake after ballots were printed, Packard said. The county then contacted its print vendor and asked them to re-print all 106,000 primary ballots with an updated file.

During the re-do, the vendor accidentally printed about 1,600 of the new ballots with the original, incorrect ballot file information, Packard said. 

“They kind of went with the first draft rather than the edit,” she said. “And as soon as they realized they had sent out the wrong one to those 1,600 people, they contacted us and we started the process to make sure that those ballots got replaced and to make sure that the ballots that were inaccurate were going to be sorted out by our ballot envelope sorting machine.”

The affected ballots represent about 1 percent of registered voters in Pueblo County. Both Republican and Democratic ballots were affected, Packard said. 

Additionally, the Republican candidate for the District 3 race is running uncontested. Only the Democratic race is competitive. 

“So statistically, we’re talking about a very small number, but of course want everyone to receive the ballot they are eligible to vote on,” Packard said. 

The county is also investigating another, separate misprint. Some voters in Precinct 209 may have seen the incorrect House race on their ballot. That error likely occurred due to a misinterpretation of recent redistricting, Packard said.

“We've shifted the borders of a lot of different things,” she said. “As soon as we get all the answers, we’ll be issuing more information.” 

Colorado’s Republican party has been calling on Griswold to take action in response to the misprints, pointing out that she already appointed outside managers in Mesa and Elbert Counties, where Republican clerks are accused of potential security breaches.

“This is an important first step to correcting the gross mismanagement and incompetence Pueblo County voters have had to endure the past few weeks,”said Kristi Burton Brown, Colorado GOP Chairwoman, in a statement.

Pueblo’s clerk, Democrat Gilbert Ortiz, is the current head of the Colorado County Clerks Association. He is up for reelection this year and is in a primary against Candace Rivera, a paralegal and victim advocate.

The appointed observer will be Drake Rambke, a professional election administrator who has worked in Pueblo County during past elections, according to a statement from the Secretary’s office. 

Through the rest of the primaries, Rambke will review all decisions related to election administration. Rambke is authorized to inspect, supervise and direct the activities of the elections staff, the statement said.

Pueblo election officials say that despite the errors, the primary and upcoming general election results will be accurate. 

“Human error occurs sometimes,” Packard said. “There is no reason to doubt election integrity and we are doing our utmost to provide voters with information and be transparent.” 

Any Pueblo County voters concerned about their ballot’s accuracy should contact the clerk and recorder’s office online or by phone. You can also visit an in-person voting center to get a new ballot.