Provisional ballots delay several decisions |

Provisional ballots delay several decisions

Daily Staff Report

A total of 444 provisional ballots still must be verified and counted in the two counties, and until they are official, no one will know whether Eagle County residents will tax themselves to buy more open space, who will serve on the Avon Town Council and who will represent them in the Colorado House of Representatives, and whether Vail voters want to pay more property taxes and have a conference center in their midst.

Doing the research on as many as 388 voters, whose name did not show in the voter registration rolls in Eagle County, will take until Tuesday next week, said outgoing Eagle County Clerk and Recorder Sara Fisher, who plans to do most of the research herself.

“I’ll be the one presenting these provisional ballots to the election judges, so it is my responsibility to the judges, as well as the voters, to be able to say that I researched every one one of them to the best of my ability,” she said Wednesday.

House District 56

Heather Lemon, Republican candidate for the Colorado House District 56 seat, trails Leadville Democrat Carl Miller by 330 votes, with those 444 provisional ballots still to be tallied – 388 in Eagle County and 56 in Summit County. She’s taking a pragmatic view of the political process.

“I’m collecting my signs so I can do this again,” Lemon said Wednesday. “This was preparation for the next time, whether or not I’m the incumbent.”

Miller said has been through 10 elections, but never one like this.

“This is the closest I’ve ever had,” said Miller, who complimented Lemon on her campaign. “If it comes out my way, I’d encourage Heather to get back in there the next time around.”

Right now, Miller leads Lemon 9,853 votes to 9,503 for the seat to represent Eagle, Lake and Summit counties.

Vail items still in question

At least 93 provisional ballots from Vail will need to be reviewed by Eagle County election officials before there will be closure on a property tax increase to fund necessary town infrastructure, and the proposed conference center. Because both ballot issues are so close (margins of 61 and 23 votes respectively), the provisional count could possibly change the outcome of one or both ballot issues. As of Wednesday, Vail’s 4-mill property tax increase received 758 votes for and 819 against. Another tax question seeking to fund a conference Center received 804 votes for and 781 against.

Open-space tax open-ended

The fate of a tax designed to fund open-space acquisition in Eagle County hinges on those 388 provisional ballots, which will be reviewed Nov. 13.

The vote before tallying the provisional votes was virtually a dead heat – 5,454 in favor and 5,456 against.

Depending on what the 388 votes determine, a recount could happen, said Eagle County Clerk and Recorder Sara Fisher.

The margin needed to force a recount needs to be less than or equal to one-half of 1 percent of the vote total, Fisher said.

If approved, the tax would add $14 per $100,000 of assessed valuation on residential properties. It is expected to raise $2.9 million annually. That money, as well as state lottery-funded open space money, could be used to acquire strategic parcels for open space.

Avon council up in the air

The potential for candidates to leapfrog their opponents makes the Avon Town Council race seem more like a playoff at the end of hockey season than a small-town political campaign.

Twelve candidates ran for four open seats. The top three finishers –Ron Wolfe and incumbent Councilmen Mac McDevitt and Brian Sipes –appear to have safe holds on their seats. But with as many as 64 provisional ballots left to count, Sipes and the fourth place finisher, incumbent Councilwoman Debbie Buckley, could be knocked out of the running.

“I’m not declaring victory until we get final that count,” Buckley said Wednesday.

The 64 ballots were cast at Avon Elementary School, which is also the polling place for Eagle-Vail and Beaver Creek residents, who couldn’t vote in the Town Council race.

Buckley finished just 14 votes ahead of the fifth-place finisher, Rene Martinez, the town’s first-ever Hispanic candidate.

Martinez ran a highly visible campaign that cost him and his supporters $4,000. The next two candidates combined didn’t spend that much.

Martinez could easily pass Buckley for the fourth seat. But for Sipes, who collected 335 votes, to lose his seat, all 64 provisional ballots cast at Avon Elementary School would have to be cast – and none of them for Sipes. Every single one of the 64 voters would have to vote for Martinez and Buckley.

There’s also a unlikely chance sixth-place finisher Steve Miller could win a seat. Again, he would have to receive almost all of the 64 votes, without Buckley or Martinez receiving any.

“Anybody within 64 votes could win,” Buckley said. “We don’t really know right now. Brian Sipes could be taken out by me, or Steve Miller could take me out.”

The unresolved race also is likely to mess up Avon’s tradition of swearing in its new council and picking a mayor at its first council meeting after the election. Avon’s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, but the provisional ballots –and therefore, the election results – may not be certified until next Thursday.

Water project funding

Even the recent memory of the worst drought in nearly 500 years didn’t move voters in the 15 Western Slope county Colorado River District to open their pocketbooks a bit to fund more and better water storage.

They turned thumbs-down – 66,946 to 53,745 – on a proposed property tax increase of $2.20 per $100,000 of assessed valuation, on a proposal that would have raised $2.7 million annually.

Eagle County voters bucked that trend and voted 3,842 to 3,107 in favor of the tax increase.

What are provisional ballots?

Provisional voting was in Colorado mandated by the 2002 state Legislature session. Provisional ballots are available to voters at their polling location when their name does not appear in the voter registration book.

Voters who find themselves in this situation can complete an affidavit, then vote using a provisional ballot.

Election officials must verify the information provided in the affidavit before the vote is counted. State law allows up to 12 days to complete that process.

Outgoing Eagle County Clerk and Recorder Sara Fisher said Wednesday the process of verifying these affidavits is fairly time-consuming.

“We take a look at the information and let that lead us through the research. If someone has moved and not updated their registration, we look for a match with their previous place of residence; if they thought they registered with their drivers license, we I have a number to verify that. It’s just about trying to put all the little pieces together so that we can tell the election judges that these people were indeed registered to vote.”

The process has been in place only since the August primary, and created delays in that election. It took Fisher and her staff three days to come up with a winner in the Joyce Mack/Jody Caruthers county Assessor’s race after 1,300 Republicans cast their votes. When the counting was finally done, Mack of Edwards defeated incumbent Jody Caruthers by 13 votes after counting 19 provisional ballots.

“To be counted, the affidavits in the provisional ballots need to be fully completed to be verified,” Fisher said.

– Daily Staff Report

Vail Daily staff writers Randy Wyrick, Matt Zalaznick, Veronica Whitney, Geraldine Haldner and Cliff Thompson contributed to this report.

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