Election 2023 Results Cross Finish Line

No Recounts Mandated by County Officials

Rick Langenberg

The chapter is finally closing on Election 2023 in Teller County, with mixed results rendered for a slew of contested seats and local and state ballot results.

And despite the razor-edge closeness of two races for the Woodland Park RE-2 District School Board, no recounts will be mandated by the county. And unless formal challenges are filed, the conclusions declared late Nov. 7 stand. According to officials from the Teller County  Clerk and Recorder’s Office, some ballots still need to be cured (meaning a problem occurred with ballot signatures, or the failure to sign the ballot envelope or certain ID requirements for first-time voters) but these won’t be enough to overturn the races in question. Also, the military ballots won’t play a role in changing any of the preliminary winner numbers.

As a result, the following are the main conclusions reached by voters in Election 2023, one of the strangest and most contentious off-year elections, and one that will go down in the history books.

*Two of the three incumbent officeholders, in the races for board positions on the Woodland Park RE-2 District Board will retain their seats, but only by extremely thin margins of 55 and 43 tallies respectfully. The sole challenger winner, though, beat one of the more outspoken board veterans.

*Cripple Creek now will have a new mayor, and a head leader outside of the current council ranks for the first time in recent memory in a race among three well-known contenders.

*The Cripple Creek/Victor RE-1 School District overcame tough fiscal odds and gained strong approval by Cripple Creek voters of a sales tax hike to assist the district’s new career, construction and vocational center.  But at the same time, Teller voters rejected a plea for a sales tax hike to help out the local ambulance district, which serves much of the northern section of the county.

*Teller voters jumped on the bandwagon in strongly opposing the state’s HH proposition in dealing with reducing property tax hikes, resulting from value escalating values, by using Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) monies.
*Local voters set records for in-person voting, with nearly 400 electors making their picks at the county’s sole designated vote center in Woodland Park on the actual final Nov. 7 election date. At the same time, more than 10,000 voters either resorted to in-person voting or using the designated 24/7 box outlets and did not deposit their ballots in the mail.
“It was amazing,” said Teller County Clerk and Recorder Stephanie Kees, in discussing the number of voters who this year opted for in-person voting. “It was very exciting.” She also described the turnout as extremely impressive, with the county nearly hitting the 60 percent level. “That is really good for an off-year election,” said Kees, who admitted that the county in past off-year mandates would be lucky to get a 40 percent turnout.

Woodland Park RE2 Board Races

Probably the most watched race dealt with the battle for three seats on the Woodland Park RE-2 School Board with two slates of candidates that presented vastly different views.

Throughout much of the election night, it appeared that the board challengers, Seth Bryant, Keegan Barkley and Mike Knott, would beat the incumbent office-holders, Mick Bates, Dave Illingworth and Cassie Kimbrell. All three challengers were ahead by formidable margins, as the county released its first preliminary results, indicating a participation rate of a little more than 50 percent. But a throng of later recorded ballots, most of which represented votes done in-person during the final day, vastly changed the tide. These were released later in the evening and indicated an election participation rate of 58.10 percent.

As a result, Barkley still emerged as the victor in her race against Illingworth, regarded as probably the most outspoken and controversial member of the current board. But Bryant fell short in the battle against Bates by a mere 43 tallies, while Knott lost by 55 votes. These numbers may change, but they aren’t close enough to force a mandated recount, according to clerk officials. Plus, officials have indicated that the some remaining “cure” ballots, which still have to be reviewed, aren’t enough to change the outcomes.

Still, the board races show a definite split in the community, a factor showcased by the barrage of signage displayed throughout the county. And the win recorded by Barkley could have implications on the current board and administration. Out of all the challenger candidates, Barkley is the most critical of the American Birthright curriculum, a plan proposed by Superintendent Ken Witt that has sparked mixed views.

Cripple Creek/Victor Races

The races in Cripple Creek and Victor and much of southern Teller weren’t quite as heated.

Probably the biggest surprise occurred with the overwhelming victory of Annie Durham, the CTE coordinator for the CC/V school district, in her bid to become the town’s next mayor. Durham snagged nearly 66 percent of the tallies, easily surpassing challengers Melissa Trenary, who actually serves as the current acting mayor; and Les Batson, a long-time resident, who has run for council on several previous occasions.  Following her Nov. 7 victory, Durham, in a prepared statement, said, “I am overwhelmed by the Cripple Creek community’s support in my run for mayor. I am fully committed to serving Cripple Creek to the best of my ability over the next four years.”

Durham had mulled a mayoral run for months, and got into the race officially last summer. She faced formidable opposition from Trenary, a veteran council member, who touted her experience and long-time roots in the community. Meanwhile, Batson emphasized his commitment towards local workers.

Even by falling short in her bid for mayor, Trenary will remain as a member of the city council, serving as the Ward 5 representative for the next two years. In other non-contested seats, Cody Schwab won as a write-in contender for Ward 4 and Jared Bowman retained his seat as an incumbent for Ward 5.

The current council and new mayor will have their hands full in addressing a slew of issues, pertaining to hotel development, housing, infrastructure and future events.

In Victor, voters picked Barbara Manning as mayor, who edged past Autumn Wallace by an 85 to 68 margin. In the town’s other contested seat, Joshua Mestas won the Ward 1 position, beating Mark Gregory by a 53 to 24 margin.

The district’s school board races weren’t quite as exciting as those in Woodland Park. But in a tight race for the District A seat, former Cripple Creek councilman Mark Green edged Katharine Kaelin by a 94 to 89 tally. This is another race that featured different results, as the reporting process developed throughout the Nov. 7 ballot counting process.