Ballot snafu to affect Basalt more than first feared
November 8, 2002
An election-day snafu at a polling place in El Jebel probably affected more votes than first believed, according to Eagle County Clerk Sara Fisher.
She raised the possibility Thursday that the mistake might be severe enough to require the results to be invalidated on one of two questions involving the town of Basalt.
“I can’t call it a race unless we can eliminate any question of doubt,” said Fisher.
And right now, there’s plenty of doubt. Here’s what happened, according to research by Fisher and her staff:
Two types of ballots were available for residents of Precinct 24, depending on where they live. The precinct includes residents of western Basalt as well as neighborhoods in unincorporated Eagle County such as Sopris Village and Summit Vista.
Residents of Basalt who are in Precinct 24 should have received a ballot that included two questions about town government. They were asked if the town should adopt a “home rule” style of government and whether term limits for elected officials should be eliminated.
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Residents from outside of the town should have received a different ballot that didn’t include those two questions.
But election judges working at the El Jebel Community Center didn’t realize there were different ballot types until after some voters were given the wrong ballots, according to Fisher.
@ATD Sub heds:Tracking the mistakes
@ATD body copy: The clerk’s preliminary research indicated that 88 people who lived outside of the town of Basalt were given ballots that allowed them to vote on Basalt issues, Fisher said.
Initially it was believed the wrong ballots were given only to out-of-town voters. However, Fisher said Thursday that it is also possible that Basalt residents who reside in Precinct 24 weren’t given proper ballots and denied the right to vote on the two town questions.
There were 175 ballots with the two Basalt questions issued at the polling place Tuesday, Fisher said. There were 67 ballots issued that excluded the two Basalt questions, she said.
However, 90 voters from the town and 144 from outside the town appeared at that polling place Tuesday. Now Fisher’s staff is tracking who was given what.
@ATD Sub heds:Error noted by voter
@ATD body copy: At some point, the election judges ? who are volunteers ? discovered that incorrect ballots had been issued and reported it to Fisher’s office at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
The mistake apparently could have been caught much earlier. Bruce Wood, a resident of Precinct 24, said he voted at about 8:45 a.m. Tuesday and found it odd that his ballot included two questions about the town of Basalt. He lives outside of the town.
He said he raised the issue with an election judge and with an employee in the clerk’s office annex.
“The election judge that I spoke with didn’t have any explanation for why I was being allowed to vote on the Basalt issues,” he said. “I took my question to the clerk’s office and was given an 800 number for the state election offices. No one seemed terribly concerned with the issue at the time.
“I didn’t pursue it beyond that, as I felt that I had done as much as I should have to bring it to the election officials’ attention,” Wood continued. “I find it surprising that the judges didn’t bring it to anyone’s attention until later that afternoon.”
Fisher said the responsibility for the error ultimately rests with her.
Fortunately, the number of inaccurate ballots issued can still be traced. As standard practice, election judges wrote down beside each voter’s name which ballot they were given. Fisher’s staff is looking up those results.
Her staff will report the results of its research to something called a canvas board at a meeting scheduled for Thursday. The canvas board looks over election results and determines if they can be validated.
Basalt’s home-rule question was approved by a commanding margin ? 608 in favor and 210 against.
The term limits question was tighter, with 466 in favor of limits and 351 opposed, for a difference of 115.
The canvas board members must feel comfortable that the result wouldn’t be affected by the ballot snafu. If they aren’t comfortable, they have no choice but to invalidate the result, Fisher said.