Colorado County Clerk’s Political Activity Leads Aurora to Consider Running Own Elections

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The city of Aurora, CO is considering running its own elections after recent political activity by the new Arapahoe County Clerk has some officials concerned about the impartiality of the voting process. The Sentinel has more:

A political endorsement from Arapahoe County Clerk Joan Lopez has prompted Aurora lawmakers to explore conducting its own municipal election in November.

“I think it’s important to say it’s hard enough to run for public office today with all the work that goes into it, all of the campaign rules and finance,” said Aurora City Councilman Charlie Richardson. “I just don’t need the office that’s responsible for conducting the election to support, endorse and donate to my opponent.”

Lopez said her endorsement of a fellow Democrat has no bearing on running fair and accountable elections.

Richardson, who represents Aurora’s Ward IV, said during a city council study session Monday that he believes his race, which is so far between him and community activist Juan Marcano, to be “corrupt” because of an endorsement made by Lopez on her personal Facebook page earlier this year. She also has public photos with Marcano visible on her page.

A screenshot of the Facebook post provided to the Sentinel — which was apparently circulated to Aurora City Council members — shows Lopez asking for support to help Marcano win the race. The post links to a campaign website for Marcano.

If the city does go it alone it will require some effort – and cost:

The city’s election commission is set to take up the question at its meeting next week and provide city council members with recommendations. City clerk Stephen Ruger told the council it’d likely take an ordinance to arrange the local election, separate from each of the three counties that conduct the election for Aurora.

Aurora would have to rent equipment for the election if city lawmakers decide to go that route.

“I hope that the city will continue to work with Arapahoe County. We have years of experience working with our residents and there is an expectation that communication and processes regarding elections originate from our office,” Lopez told the Sentinel. “We’ve worked hard to streamline the process and make voting as easy and accessible as possible. Introducing a new process could negatively impact voters and would use taxpayer resources that might be better used elsewhere.”

Richardson said his biggest concern with Arapahoe County running the election is not the voting process itself, but “other subjective aspects,” such as Lopez being able to coach a candidate with up-to-date data of voter turnout as ballots are being turned into the county.

I understand those concerns, but I can assure everyone that our elections have always been and will continue to be a fair and transparent process. Our elections team is staffed with highly knowledgeable individuals who have years of experience coordinating elections and adhere to all rules and regulations set forth by C.R.S. Title 1 Elections,” Lopez said. “All candidates must also adhere to certain laws to ensure fairness. During election season, tabulation and ballot security is conducted by bipartisan teams. We also have a pre-audit and post-audit event that anyone is welcome to attend.”

The issue isn’t unique to the current clerk, though the nature of the partisan activity is changed somewhat:

Some members of city council were hesitant to entertain Richardson’s concerns, noting the county clerk is a partisan seat and it’s not illegal for a clerk to endorse candidates.

Former Arapahoe County Clerk Matt Crane said during his time in office he donated money to the Republican Party for events, such as the annual Lincoln Day dinners, but distanced himself from individual candidates — though, he did receive donations from some city council members, according to campaign finance records.

Lopez is also the former registered agent for a group called Hardcore Democrats. The goal of the group is to “promote Democratic candidates for school board, city council, coroner, sheriff, county clerk, treasurer, RTD board, town council and district representatives only for the Democratic party.”

The agent change was made earlier this month, according to state filing documents. Lopez said that change was made because of the perception it may make to voters.

“I align closely with my party’s values, but I also understand the importance of working across those party lines,” she said. “It’s my sincerest hope to build bridges, open the door for honest communication and learn how to best work together. Compromise and cooperation will benefit us all in the end.”

Given the likely logistical challenges, even the leading proponent of the switch says he’ll defer if the cost is too great:

Richardson said he’ll wait to hear the recommendations from the election commission, especially because it’s so far unknown what kind of cost may come with the city organizing its own election. Crane said he never experienced a municipality taking on their own regular election during his tenure.

“I’m going to be mindful of the additional cost and potential cost to the citizens for conducting our own election,” Richardson said. “And I don’t want to impose those costs if they are substantial just based on how my Ward IV has been severely compromised.”

This is an issue that often arises when election officials are elected in partisan elections. Those officials have to find the proper balance between advocating for policies and positions they support (which is their right) and their duties to provide a fair and impartial election process. That’s not an easy balance, given that circumstances usually conspire to make bright line rules difficult to set, let alone enforce. Here’s hoping that Aurora’s concerns can be addressed either way and that voters can have confidence in the local voting process. Stay tuned …

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