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County deals with large voter turnout and tight races

School issue passed. Some races in limbo. Gunni goes green…
The state’s first all-mail election didn’t make for a speedy process in Gunnison County. A large number of local voters waited until Election Day, Tuesday, November 4 to cast their votes and that, plus scores of people registering to vote on Tuesday, helped to trigger a clog in the county elections system. Results weren’t known until almost 24 hours after the polls closed and some of the contests were extremely tight.
“Some of these races could change from the unofficial results released today,” said head county election official Diane Folowell Wednesday evening.

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Folowell said the office tabulated 5,822 ballots on Tuesday before calling it a night about 8:30. On Wednesday, they verified and counted more than another 2,000 ballots that were received on Tuesday. She said turnout was huge for a mid-term general election (7,026 total ballots cast) and the Gunnison County election’s office was swamped on Tuesday with people asking for fresh ballots and almost 100 people coming in to register to vote.

“It was like running an election during a presidential year,” she said. “We had expected people would mail in or bring in their ballots early but we were busy all day and at 7 o’clock Tuesday there were lines at all three polling places.”
Two years ago during the presidential election, 7,995 votes were cast in the county.
A big difference this year was that even ballots dropped off at the polling centers were treated as mail ballots. So election judges had to go through a time-consuming verification process with signatures before even starting the tabulation process. And instead of scanning ballots at the individual polling places, ballots had to be returned to the county’s main election office in the Blackstock Government Center in Gunnison to be counted. Technical issues with the older, slow scanners also apparently played a part in the delays.

“For whatever reason, many people didn’t use the ballot that was mailed to them,” Folowell explained.
“Plus we had the people coming in and register to vote on Tuesday since we now have same day registration in the state. Most appeared to be students from Western. All that made for an overwhelming day. We didn’t know what to expect and it exceeded expectations. It was pretty amazing and we are thrilled with the numbers but it set us back,” she said.

Official results depend on ballots still to be counted
When all the ballots were finally counted Wednesday, November 5 about 5:30, there were some tight races. But the election office has several categories of ballots that are outstanding that can be received and tallied up until Wednesday, November 12 at 5 p.m. They include ballots coming from citizens living overseas, such as military personnel; provisional ballots that need to be rectified by the voter; and ballots that had discrepancies and need to be corrected. Folowell estimated there could be as many as 150 such ballots out there. That could certainly switch up some of the races.
“We send those voters letters notifying them of the situation and they have until next Wednesday to correct the problems,” she said.
Crested Butte sales tax in limbo
Unofficial results showed that the town of Crested Butte’s sales tax increase proposal was essentially deadlocked. The unofficial numbers had 392 people voting against the increase with 390 citizens voting for it.
Mayor Aaron Huckstep said among other things, this result made it very clear that one person’s vote can make a huge difference.
“We don’t have to sort it out until January 1 so that’s a plus,” he concluded. “I think everyone on the staff and council knew it would be a tight issue and frankly, I’m happy that it is that close. Unfortunately the issue itself lost a lot of steam because of the Whatever event in September.
“As a council, we’ve been preparing the 2015 budget presuming the issue didn’t pass,” Huckstep continued. “Hopefully we’re wrong. But that is the prudent thing to do and that is how we will proceed until we are told otherwise. If you ever wondered if your vote counted…here is a real good example of seeing that your vote really does matter.”

School district issue passes
Voters across the county overwhelmingly approved a mill levy override for the Re1J school district 3,832 to 2,915. The measure will bring in up to $2.5 million annually for the school district.
Yes for Sustaining Our Schools chairperson Kristi Hargrove said that given the long wait to hear the results, she was both thankful and relieved. “I am grateful to live in a place that understands our kids and our schools are a vital part of the community. I am thrilled with this result,” she said.
“It was just so important for everyone,” she continued. “It is so important for every kid in the district. Education is so incredibly important for all the things we do. There is a systemic statewide problem with education funding that needs to be fixed. I’m just glad this community took local action to address the problem.”
Some county races riding a thin rail…
In the contested county office races, two are extremely close with the unofficial results. Both the sheriff’s and the treasurer’s contest are razor thin.
In the race for county treasurer, Debbie Dunbar beat William Spicer 3,300 to 3,270, a mere 30-vote difference.
In the race to lead the county’s law enforcement agency, incumbent Rick Besecker has tallied 3,402 votes to challenger Scott Jackson’s 3,290. That equates to 50.8-percent to 49.1-percent.
Kathy Simillion had the widest margin of victory in a Gunnison County race. In the county clerk/recorder race, she topped Jane Wyman 3,922 to 2,555.
Recount potential and process
Under election law, the county office will do an audit of the election next Monday with representatives of the two major political parties. The outstanding ballots will be counted and added to the tallies on Wednesday, November 12. The official “canvas” will close out the election on November 17.
If a recount is needed, it will take place the first week of December. Mandatory recounts are required if there is a one-half-of-one percent differential in the vote count. Right now, that would put the town of Crested Butte’s sales tax proposal in that category. All other county races, including the treasurer’s race, would not meet that equation. That could change with the new ballot count. However, the political parties can request a recount anytime but they would be required to foot the bill for the new tally.

Gunnison County state races
On the state level, Gunnison County voters preferred Mark Udall for senate 55-percent to 38-percent but he lost statewide to Republican Cory Gardner.
Gunnison County voters helped push John Hickenlooper to a slim victory. They gave him 3,900 votes over 2,531 votes for challenger Bob Beauprez and Hickenlooper retained the office by a narrow 28,000 vote margin across the state.
Kerry Donovan topped Don Suppes for the region’s state senator seat and Gunnison voters contributed to that victory by casting 3,595 votes for Donovan compared to 2,608 for Suppes.
Millie Hamner looks to have taken the House District 61 seat over Debra Irvine. Gunnison county voters voted 2,123 to 1,193 in favor of Hamner.

City of Gunnison going green
Voters in the city of Gunnison strongly approved measures allowing medical and recreational marijuana dispensaries in the city. The city council will have six months to develop the ordinances to allow the outlets. That approval may have come in part by the large last minute turnout of Western State Colorado University students who showed up Tuesday to register and vote in the election.
“Overall, it was exhausting for everyone,” admitted Folowell. “We are already making plans on how to do it better next time. This has been a real ordeal. We will get a newer, central scanner that can handle higher volumes for the next election.  On the bright side, we were excited to see such a high voter turnout..”

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