District attorney candidate Sherry Caloia maintained a narrow lead over incumbent Martin Beeson after a final batch of Garfield County mail-in ballots were counted Wednesday, but the race remains too close to call with more than 800 provisional ballots outstanding across the 9th Judicial District’s three counties.
The final results likely won’t be known for at least 10 to 14 days, as election officials set out to process and count the provisional ballots. The extra days are required because sorting through which provisional ballots are valid is a time-consuming process.
With 292 additional mail-in ballots counted on Wednesday that were not part of the election night totals because of technical difficulties, Caloia had 17,300 votes to Beeson’s 17,176 — a difference of just 134 votes out of 34,476 cast in the race.
The 292 Garfield County ballots counted Wednesday — 271 of which had votes for the DA’s race — narrowed Caloia’s lead from 159 votes.
“I never thought I’d be part of Bush-Gore 2,” Beeson joked Wednesday evening.
Beeson is an incumbent Republican who took office in 2005 after his predecessor was deposed in a recall election, and he touts his guiding the office out of that turmoil. Caloia, a Democrat, challenged Beeson saying that she would be more reasonable in her management of the office.
Said Caloia, “My interpretation [of Wednesday’s count] is that the end result isn’t going to change that much.” She noted that the relative parity of the vote breakdown in Garfield County means that the provisional ballots aren’t likely going to be enough for Beeson to vault back into the lead. She also has the buffer of the additional provisional votes in Pitkin County, which are likely to favor her by a large margin.
“I’m still very optimistic,” she said.
There are 559 provisional ballots outstanding in Garfield County, where voters favored Beeson by a margin of 52.81 percent to 47.19 percent for Caloia. There are approximately 215 provisional ballots in Pitkin County, where voters favored Caloia 66.33 percent to 33.67 percent for Beeson; and 77 in Rio Blanco County where Beeson was favored 74 percent to 26 percent for Caloia.
There also are about 70 mail-in ballots in Garfield County and 40 in Pitkin County that were either unsigned or where election judges found that the voter’s signature did not match county records. Voters in those cases have eight days to attempt to cure the discrepancy.
Beeson said he has no plans to concede the race until the provisional ballots are counted, since Caloia’s lead is smaller than the amount of outstanding ballots.
“I’m done making assumptions on this election,” he said of his wait-and-see approach.
It takes at least 10 days for election officials to tally provisional ballots, although they can begin sifting through the ballots now. Certified election results are due to the Secretary of State’s Office by Nov. 23, but since that is the Friday after Thanksgiving, county clerks are shooting to have their final official tallies ready by Nov. 20 or 21.
Voters cast provisional ballots whenever a problem is encountered when they show up to vote in person. Common reasons for provisional ballots include someone who was sent a mail-in ballot, but shows up to vote in person. In that instance, a provisional ballot is cast so election officials can confirm that no mail-in ballot was received. Also, someone who shows up to vote at the wrong polling place can cast a provisional ballot, but those ballots’ votes will only be counted in federal and state races, said Pitkin County election manager Dwight Shellman III, noting that the policy maybe unfair but it is state law.
Not all provisional ballots will end up being counted. That is up to a team of ballot judges who will look at each one and examine the circumstances, said Garfield County Clerk and Recorder Jean Alberico. She said she will bring in two to three two-person teams of experienced mail-in ballot judges, representing the Democratic and Republican parties. These teams will begin the process of determining which ballots are valid by the end of the week, she said.
State law also requires a mandatory recount when the margin of victory is less than 0.5 percent of the winner’s vote total. As the race stands now, Caloia’s margin is .77 percent. Beeson, however, can request a recount regardless of the vote breakdown, but he would have to pay the costs of the effort.
Beeson said he is taking things “one step at a time” and has not made a determination as to whether he would seek a recount, if one is not mandated by the state.
For now, both attorneys will carry on with business as usual — with Beeson running the DA’s office and Caloia her private practice — until the race emerges from electoral limbo.