Another chapter in Archuleta County’s history was written yesterday when county clerk June Madrid conducted a hand recount of ballots cast during the Nov. 4 general election.
The recount was complete by 4 p.m. and the end result was the same: Republican candidate Betty Diller had won the election over write-in candidate Kelly Evans.
Only the numbers changed.
At recount’s end, Diller had 2,747 votes to Evans’ 2,547. The results in the first vote count had Diller the winner 2,745 to 2,300.
“This is the first request for a hand recount from a write-in candidate,” said Madrid.
Madrid has been running elections in Archuleta County for 20 years.
The hand recount came as a result of a Nov. 10 request from Evans.
According to Madrid, the Colorado Secretary of State Office establishes the guidelines for the hand recount, and the process began much like the counting done during the Nov. 4 election, with machines recounting the vote. But, Madrid said, that is where the similarities end.
“The standards have changed, and when the standards change the outcome will change. You have to look at everybody’s intent. You have to look at ballots that have non-blackened ovals, that have a name. We’re counting the ones where the oval wasn’t blackened the first time,” Madrid said prior to the recount.
The move to gauge voter intent during a hand recount marked a tectonic shift from standard vote counting practices.
By contrast, during a regular vote counting procedure, a machine scans each ballot for blackened ovals, tallying the results for each ballot question. In the case of an election with a write-in candidate, the scanner searches for a darkened oval next to the write-in candidate question, and then separates the ballots — those with darkened ovals for the write-in candidate and those without. The ballots with the darkened oval are then reviewed twice — once by the counting board, and then by the hand tally board. Election judges are not compelled to examine the ballots without a darkened oval to learn voter intent.
During the hand recount however, election judges examined each ballot, blackened oval or not, looking for a clear indication — i.e. a reasonably accurate spelling of “Kelly Evans” — of who the voter intended to single out.
“Misspellings will be reexamined, and on ballots with no ovals, we’ll look to see if there’s a name,” Madrid said prior to the recount.
According to Madrid, there were 1,280 ballots where no oval was darkened and 187 write-in votes that were disallowed due to spelling problems. Each of those ballots, plus the remaining 5,218 ballots cast countywide were reexamined during the hand recount, and recount totals were reconciled with those reported on election night. Madrid reports 6,685 ballots cast in the 2008 election.
Although tedious and costly — Evans paid $2,000 to fund the recount — Evans believed victory could lie in those 1,280 votes.
Evans’ recount request was sparked by allegations that roughly 1,000 write-in votes were missed during the first counting of absentee ballots on election night, and that Madrid’s reporting of vote totals during the evening appeared inaccurate compared to the actual number of absentee ballots cast.
Madrid explained the numbers reported throughout the evening were not intended to represent a final or official tally, and Madrid argued that Evans’ supporters misinterpreted information as such. Moreover, when alerted to the possibility of omitted or miscounted absentee ballots, Madrid said she tasked staff with hand counting absentee ballots to ensure the accuracy of the count.
Madrid explained misplaced tally sheets led to the confusion on election night, but all ballots cast were ultimately counted and accounted for.
“I’ve never lost a ballot,” Madrid said.
Despite Madrid’s assertions, however, and beyond the alleged mishandling of absentee ballots, Evans questioned whether election judges lawfully disqualified 187 write-in votes when they noticed spelling problems on the ballot.
In addition, Evans examined the combined vote total for the district attorney, District 1, and District 2 commissioners’ races and asked why vote totals in the treasurer’s race did not match. According to Evans, vote totals for the three races “averaged” 6,108, while votes cast for the treasurer’s office totaled 5,020 for a difference of 1,088 votes.
In an eight-point list of concerns, Evans asked, “How can we account for these 1,088 votes?”
Madrid said it was fallacious to assume that all votes cast in one race might equal the votes cast in another. The reason, Madrid said, is because voters often do not cast a vote for every question on the ballot.
Although Madrid vehemently defended the integrity and professionalism of her office’s handling of the election, Evans said it is within her rights as a write-in candidate to request a recount, particularly in light of the 1,280 ballots with no oval blackened.