Teller County Stripped Of Election Duties

Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler

November vote turned over to national consultant:

by Rick Langenberg:

In an unprecedented move and one prompted by a scathing state report, Teller County clerk officials won’t be in charge of handling the forthcoming 2012 presidential election, including managing vote centers and tabulating votes. Instead, the Nov. 6 election, at the recommendation of Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, has been turned over to Al Davidson, a state and nationally recognized election expert.

Davidson previously co-chaired the national task force on election reform following the disputed 2000 vote between George W. Bush and Al Gore and has been featured on major media outlets. The new Teller consultant, who sports nearly 30 years of experience in election procedures and management, more recently acted as the deputy clerk of elections for Arapahoe County. He also pioneered the mail ballot legislation and related rules in Oregon, which are now used by many other jurisdictions. This temporary appointment was announced Monday morning during a special meeting held at the county commissioners’ meeting room in Cripple Creek. Under the directive, Davidson will essentially assume the role as the county’s head elections manager for the next several months. He will become a temporary county employee with regular office hours. In addition, Davidson will hire another person and will help train Teller’s clerk and recorder staff in running elections, manning the equipment and assuring that mail-out ballots are handled properly. “We want to make sure that every vote is accounted for,” said Davidson, following Monday’s meeting. He cited a desire to have plenty of documentation and proper procedures in place, with the goal of establishing a much more accountable election process.

The move was welcomed by Teller Clerk and Recorder Judith “JJ” Jamison, the county commissioners and Gessler, who attended the discussion. “We are committed to do whatever is necessary,” said Jim Ignatius, the chairman of the Teller County commissioners, who supported the recommendations of Gessler. Unfortunately for a county strapped for cash, that means opening up its wallet and forking out an additional $120,000 for the general election. And based on the added expenses for the primary vote, Teller County will end up paying an additional $135,000 in extra election costs for the year. Most of these expenses will deal with the costs of Davidson and any additional personnel he brings on board in the next few months.

According to Ignatius, the county will have to find other programs to cut to make up the difference, or may examine other spending areas not pursued this year. “Something else will be cut. We don’t have the money,” said Ignatius. Primary election problems Regardless of this fiscal dilemma, Ignatius stood behind the recommendations of the state. In a rather critical report, Gessler accused the clerk’s office of major deficiencies in running the June 26 primary election. Some of the issues he cited dealt with the lack of planning by Jamison, insufficient knowledge of voter registration-related computer systems, a lack of written procedures, failure to train election workers, a lack of space for processing ballots and preparing for the elections, a systematic disorganization of election-related supplies, equipment and material, insufficient security and an absence of key employees during the election period. These primary election problems first surfaced when the clerk’s office reportedly mailed out several thousand ballots without attached signature lines on the return envelopes. “Clerk Jamison was completely unprepared to fulfill her duties,” said Gessler in the report’s conclusion. He suggested hiring “competent election professionals at the earliest opportunity.” In another report by an official election observer, the conclusions were even more critical. “If the Secretary of State’s office had not sent additional resources to Teller County prior to the election and during the election, voting may not have occurred and election day and election night could have been very problematic,” stated Peggy Nerlin. She conceded that major problems developed from the actions of a former Teller election department manager, but noted in essence, ‘The buck stops with Jamison.’ Her report stated that Jamison should have had other employees trained in election procedures and had better contingency plans in place.

Due to the fact that the upcoming vote involves a presidential election, the state can’t allocate any more personnel, according to Gessler. As a result, he recommended that the county use the services of Davidson on a temporary basis. Clerk takes the blame During last week’s discussion, Jamison took the blame for the situation and stated that she has addressed most of the problems cited in the reports. “I have made some mistakes and I take complete responsibility for any shortcomings in this office and complete responsibility for the steps being taken to repair them,” said the clerk in a prepared statement. For example, Jamison stated that she plans to cross-train more employees, have better maintenance of equipment, gain additional space in the courthouse and establish more defined procedures, just to name a few. “My staff has been encouraging and supportive and they have risen to embrace new skills and disciplines,” said Jamison. “I continue to welcome the expertise from the Secretary (of State’s) office in developing staff experience for long term continued success of our election process. You can be assured it will be a team effort.” Gessler and the commissioners refused to point any fingers during Monday’s meeting. In fact, Gessler, while giving her office an F-minus grade elections report, stated that Jamison has been extremely cooperative. He also stated that his office has tried to take a more pro-active stance than his predecessors. In the past, he hinted that some of Teller’s shortcomings in the June primary election may have been overlooked. He also expressed confidence in the validity of the primary election results, and didn’t see any need for having another vote. According to Ignatius, the goal of the county is to “maintain the integrity of the process. It is imperative that their vote will be counted.” These reassuring words, though, were questioned by several community leaders who attended Monday’s discussion, including members of the local Democratic Party. Long-time Teller Democratic Party leader Lori Glauth even threw out the “recall” word. “What is the process for JJ (Jamison) to be removed from office?” questioned Glauth. She expressed concerns over the costs that the county government would have to absorb to overcome her mistakes. Plus, Glauth questioned the fact that Jamison has nearly completed her second year in office. Gessler, though, pleaded the Fifth regarding these questions. “I don’t get involved in (county political) disputes,” said the secretary of state. But that said, he indicated that removing an elected official would have to probably involve a recall or some type of initiative campaign. Following last week’s meeting, Glauth indicated that such an effort would have to originate from the Teller Republican Party due to the fact that the GOP outnumbers local Democrats by a three-to-one margin. And at least for now, local GOP leaders appear to be standing behind Jamison.

Pete LaBarre, the chairman of the Teller County Republican Central Committee, stated that the local party’s position is to insure the “integrity of the voting process. We support doing what we can to fix the problem.” But the recent furor over election procedures may spark a frequent debate in Teller County government circles: Should such positions as the clerk and recorder and assessor be appointed rather than decided on by Teller voters every four years, with the current term limits? Jamison’s administration has featured a vastly new lineup of employees compared to her predecessor, Patricia Crowson, who served for eight years. These types of positions have been described by some insiders as quite technical, rather than political. However, past efforts to extend term limits or to turn certain elected seats into appointed positions have been met with much public opposition.