Basalt election critic lodges complaint with state

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

A Basalt woman filed a complaint this week with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office over the town’s April 5 election and has taken preliminary steps to file a violation claim or claims with the Eagle County District Attorney’s Office.

Mary Kenyon said her investigation into the election unveiled several procedures she contends were not properly carried out by Town Clerk Pam Schilling and the election judges. She also raised questions about possible voter fraud and the handling of voters’ ballots by Mayor Jacque Whitsitt.

Basalt held its election for mayor and three Town Council seats April 5. In the mayoral race, Whitsitt topped Rick Stevens by 27 votes, or a margin of 51 to 49 percent. It was the town’s first mail-in-ballot-only election.

Kenyon brought 10 alleged flaws to Schilling’s attention earlier this week and then added two more to the list later.

“It would be difficult for someone to ‘stuff the ballot box’ without me or the judges catching it.”Pam SchillingTown Clerk

“As a whole, this election has some problems,” Kenyon said Friday.

Clerk defends procedures

In her email to Schilling, Kenyon asked why certain voters’ situations were handled the way they were. In some cases, Schilling provided a specific explanation.

For example, Kenyon said landlords voted at their rented properties, and she questioned if other voters really lived where they said they did.

Schilling responded, “I have to rely on the list supplied to me by the county clerk and on the honesty of the registrant. Voters must sign an affidavit on the ballot envelope as to their residential address.”

In other cases, Schilling conceded that election procedures could be improved. Kenyon noted that returned mail ballots in envelopes were not secured and that the box where ballots were dropped wasn’t always secured.

Schilling said the first day that ballots were received by mail, the deliveries to the town finance office were unattended. She instructed the postal-delivery worker to bring the mail to her office for the duration of the election so she could attend to the ballots.

“Ballots were not left unattended again,” Schilling wrote to Kenyon.

As for the ballot box being unattended, Schilling said she did her best to ensure that the ballot box was observed during voting hours and secured during nonvoting hours, but she said she is a one-person office.

Kenyon expressed concern that an unattended ballot box could be “stuffed.” Schilling responded, “It would be difficult for someone to ‘stuff the ballot box’ without me or the judges catching it.”

In a handful of cases, Schilling said Kenyon wasn’t specific enough with issues being raised, so she couldn’t provide an answer.

“Ballot harvesting” debated

After the initial exchange of Kenyon’s inquiries and Schilling’s answers, Kenyon sent a response Thursday evening challenging Schilling’s reply and citing portions of Colorado election law.

“Pam, your answers to my inquiries do not support the process articulated by these laws,” Kenyon wrote. “We will leave it up to the authorities as to where we go from here.”

In that email, Kenyon said the clerk had the responsibility of doing a more thorough job of making sure a person lives where they claim if any doubt arises. She claimed there were cases that raised doubt.

Kenyon also questioned why Whitsitt was allowed to bring in ballots by voters on their behalf, a practice Kenyon called “ballot harvesting.”

“This was one of the major concerns when the mail-in balloting was passed. There is too much opportunity for fraud and intimidation,” Kenyon wrote. She said Colorado law says voters “may mail their ballot or drop it off in person.”

Whitsitt said Friday she checked with the town attorney, the town clerk and Colorado Municipal League on the propriety of bringing in a ballot on behalf of a voter. She said there were cases when voters asked her to drop off their ballot at Town Hall.

“It’s a legitimate means to get a ballot delivered to the ballot place,” Whitsitt said. “Mary’s opinion is there’s only two ways. She’s wrong.”

The Aspen Times was unable to reach the official with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office that Kenyon said she spoke to about her complaint. She said she anticipates hearing back shortly about whether there is any issue the state will evaluate. Typically the Secretary of State’s Office doesn’t get involved in a municipal election, she said.

District attorney doesn’t certify outcomes

Kenyon spoke to an investigator with the Eagle County District Attorney’s Office on Thursday and learned about the procedure for an election violation claim or claims. She and the investigator decided to wait until she hears from the Secretary of State’s office before she proceeds with a possible claim or claims with the District Attorney’s Office.

District Attorney Bruce Brown said it is not usual for his office to receive complaints about voter fraud, residency issues, candidate eligibility and election outcomes. His office has jurisdiction over issues such as fraud and eligibility, but not the certification of outcomes. If a person wanted to contest the Basalt election, they would have to pursue it in Eagle County District Court.

“It totally is a civil matter,” Brown said.

Friday was the last day to request a recount in the Basalt election, at the expense of the person making the request. No one made the request.

“This is important to me, but I’m not the person that should be bringing this forward,” Kenyon said.

Kenyon said her objective is make sure proper procedures are being followed and to “uphold the integrity of the election (process) itself.”

She said there are no sour grapes on her part about the election outcome and the result wasn’t motivating her look at the election.

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