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Gazette Premium Content A tale of two recall elections: Big contrasts in Colorado Springs, Pueblo

By Megan Schrader Updated: September 4, 2013 at 7:27 am

About 2,800 voters in Pueblo have already cast ballots in the recall election over three days of early voting, but in Colorado Springs polls have yet to open.

It's a contrast that has raised eyebrows at more than one advocacy group for public engagement and voting rights.

"It's a huge concern for us," said Elena Nunez, executive director of Colorado Common Cause. "It's the first time in many, many years voters won't be able to get mail ballots and that's created a lot of confusion and uncertainty about where people can vote."

Nunez said giving voters more chances to access the ballot is particularly important given the uncertainty leading up to the recall elections. Several court rulings have changed how the election would be handled - causing several iterations of election rules.

Voters in Pueblo and Colorado Springs will decide on Sept. 10 whether to recall their state senators for gun legislation passed during the 2013 legislative session. Only residents within the districts of Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs and Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo get to vote.

El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams, a Republican, says every voter within Morse's Senate District 11 is within a seven-minute drive of four polling centers that will be open for four days of early voting, including nine hours on Saturday.

"We did a mailing to all voters in Senate District 11 urging them to vote on the Thursday and Friday of this week," Williams said. "If people wait until the last day, there is always the possibility of long lines."

Williams also sent out an e-mail outlining the election process and asking for feedback. He received no response.

Nunez said long lines can disenfranchise voters.

"If they can't take the time to wait in line there's the possibility they will leave the polls without casting a ballot," she said. "It should never be difficult to vote."

In addition to the four early voting centers that will be open Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday, Williams is opening another two polling centers on Monday for early voting.

But Pueblo County Clerk and Recorder Gilbert Ortiz, a Democrat, is opening one center for nine hours on nine days of early voting, including Saturday and Sunday.

Another 10 centers will be open for five days of early voting.

And in both counties all the voting centers will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on election day.

"As soon as we realized that we weren't going to send 82,000 mail ballots out to those voters we wanted to give them access to the ballots as soon as possible for as long as possible," Ortiz said.

Already several Pueblo residents who otherwise would have been out of town for early voting, have thanked Ortiz for opening several days earlier than planned, he said.

"Unlike the Pueblo district, which is fairly large geographically, this district is a compact urban district," Williams said.

Morse's Senate District 11 includes much of downtown, the Colorado College area and stretches west to Manitou Springs, with about 69,000 registered voters. In Pueblo, Giron's district encompasses Pueblo, Pueblo West and stretches northwest to the county borders.

The polling center that will be open the longest is in Pueblo

Kristy Milligan, executive director of the non-profit Citizens Project - said everyone has adapted well to the highly unusual election. In fact, this is the first recall election in the state of a legislative official.

It's the first election to occur under a new law - House Bill 1303 - that eliminates traditional neighborhood precincts in favor of voter polling centers and all mail ballots.

Timing of the elections prevented any mail ballots from being sent out, but precincts still will not be open on election day.

"It's challenging for everyone involved but we don't want it to be challenging for voters," Milligan said.

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