District Attorney Bruce Brown cleared of Election Day impropriety by Secretary of State
The Colorado Secretary of State’s office has declined to refer a complaint filed against District Attorney Bruce Brown to the Attorney General, clearing him of impropriety for being present at a Silverthorne polling place on Election Day.
Brown, the Democratic incumbent who won re-election, was in the voting area for roughly 15 minutes before an election official asked him to leave. Silverthorne police contacted Brown after receiving reports that he was there, but determined that he was not violating a prohibition on electioneering activity within 100 feet of a voting place because he wasn’t wearing campaign paraphernalia or communicating with voters.
Summit County Clerk and Recorder Kathy Neel, a Republican, filed complaints with both the Colorado Supreme Court and Secretary of State the next day, saying that it was inappropriate for Brown to be there given that he was on the ballot. She said there had been no communication between the clerk’s office and the district attorney and that neither engages in poll monitoring, which is strictly the purview of sworn representatives for political parties.
Neel said that the Colorado Supreme Court told her that a complaint would have to be referred to its attorney discipline division by the Secretary of State. That office decided that there wasn’t enough evidence to advance the complaint further, effectively ending the matter, a spokeswoman said.
In October, a Summit County resident wrote a letter of complaint to the Supreme Court alleging that Brown had failed to properly report an accident last year, a charge he denies. The court would not comment on that specific complaint.
Eyes on the ground
Brown said that he was at the polling place with an investigator because of election integrity complaints his office had received. He said his presence there was related to an ongoing investigation that he couldn’t comment on at this time.
Brown’s office has conducted election investigations in the past, including in 2014 when it charged five Montezuma homeowners with voter fraud because they weren’t full-time residents. They received deferred prosecutions, which gave them amnesty so long as they changed their registration.
Brown said the DA’s office had received many complaints this election cycle related to improper registration, questionable signatures on ballots and people voting twice, among other things. He said that his presence at the Silverthorne polling place was part of an aggressive strategy to respond to reports of voter fraud or any other suspicious activity.
In small communities, Brown reasoned, officials often have to play multiple roles. Because of the small size of the DA’s office and the wide area it covers, he claimed he needed to be on the ground and ready to quickly respond to reports of malfeasance.
“I don’t feel it was inappropriate for me to be there, in fact I think it was necessary in order to ensure election integrity was given the highest possible scrutiny,” he said. “I totally understand why people feel that these dual roles might give the appearance that something inappropriate was going on. But the reality is my presence at the polling place didn’t involve contact with anyone but was an opportunity to observe what was happening if there was a complaint.”