The Mesa County Clerk and Recorder’s office found more than 500 ballots for the 2019 election earlier this week in a drop box outside the election office, meaning those ballots were not counted as part of the election results.
Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters announced the finding in a letter to news outlets sent by County Attorney Patrick Coleman on Thursday afternoon. The letter stated that the ballots were discovered when picking up the first ballots returned for the 2020 presidential primary election. Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold’s office was contacted immediately and informed of the situation, the letter said.
Peters told the Daily Sentinel that 574 ballots were found on Tuesday at the drop box at 200 S. Spruce St., outside the Mesa County Central Services building where the elections office is located.
“This really concerns me,” Peters told the Daily Sentinel. “This is a very serious offense and I wanted to let people know.”
The missing ballots would not have changed the result of any of the elections, she said. The only issue decided by a margin of less than 1,000 votes was East Orchard Mesa Fire Protection District Ballot Issue 6A, where voters approved a tax increase by a margin of 95 votes. None of the recovered ballots were from that district, Peters said. Last year, 47,948 ballots were counted in Mesa County, representing a voter turnout of 43.6%.
The ballots can not be opened without a court order and will not be added to vote totals, according to Colorado Secretary of State spokesman Steve Hurlbert. Those who submitted uncounted ballots can receive credit so that there is no gap in their voting record, he said.
Griswold, in a prepared statement, said she has ordered a remedial action plan for the Peters’ office and that her staff will travel to Grand Junction this weekend to provide oversight and guidance.
“As chief election officer for Mesa County, it is the Mesa County Clerk and Recorder’s responsibility to ensure that ballots are collected and processed in a timely and accurate fashion, in accordance with state law and rule,” Griswold said. “The failure to collect all ballots timely submitted for the 2019 coordinated election is unacceptable and must not recur.”
Peters is still investigating why the ballots were not retrieved, but it appears that there was no pickup at that drop box after 5 p.m. Drop boxes were locked at 7 p.m. on election night, Nov. 5, 2019, and not checked again until this Tuesday, she said.
Colorado Public Radio Reporter Stina Sieg was reporting on the election that night in front of the Mesa County Central Services building and recalls workers coming outside and putting a bar through the ballot box to lock it at 7 p.m. and then going back inside.
Peters is looking to obtain the video surveillance of the drop box to see what happened between 5 and 7 p.m. that night. She also stated in her letter that “steps to ensure that this won’t occur during the upcoming Primary Election have been taken, and the procedures followed by the elections staff are continuing to be reviewed and modified to ensure that this mistake will never happen again.”
When asked what steps she would take, Peters said would consider having staff conduct a sweep of the drop boxes later in the evening after they were locked on election night or the possibly the following day to make sure no ballots were left behind.
She’s also considering contacting each person whose ballot was not counted and sending them a letter of apology.
“As your clerk, I apologize for this error and will always face challenges head-on with transparency and integrity in order to always keep your trust,” Peters wrote in her letter sent to media outlets.