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Voter suppression complaints hitting both sides in Douglas County

November 7, 2017 Updated: November 7, 2017 at 2:29 pm
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It must be Election Day, because complaints about harassment and voter suppression in one of the nation's most-watched school board elections are bubbling to the surface.

The campaign manager for a slate of conservative education reformers known as Elevate Douglas County charged that an independent expenditure committee, Douglas Schools for Douglas Kids, has been sending out text messages that imply the Elevate slate is not actually in favor of school choice.

Those are fighting words in Dougco.

Tuesday's election will help determine the fate of the school district's voucher program, known as the Choice Scholarship, which has been on hold since the board of education put it into place in 2011. A legal challenge, mounted by Taxpayers for Public Education, has kept the program from implementation. In 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled the voucher program unconstitutional. The district appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which sent the case back to the state's high court during the summer for another review.

In a news release issued Tuesday, Elevate Douglas County's Michelle Lyng said "It is mind-blowingly ironic" that the American Federation of Teachers-backed IEC claims the Elevate Slate is not "pro-school choice enough. Just this summer, the head of AFT compared school choice, which many families in Douglas County value, to racial segregation," Lyng said.

"This is nothing more than an attempt to confuse and suppress Republican voters who have not yet turned in their ballots. Republican voters in Douglas County should take this attempt to deceive as a rallying cry to encourage everyone they know to vote," she said.

Douglas Schools for Douglas Kids has received $300,000 from the American Federation of Teachers, which is affiliated with the local teacher's union, the Douglas County Federation. As an independent expenditure committee, Douglas Schools for Douglas Kids is prohibited from coordinating with any candidate or campaign.

But efforts to influence voters in a negative way flies both ways, according to a complaint received by Colorado Politics over the weekend.

Delana Maynes, a parent in Douglas County, told Colorado Politics that the Elevate Slate has been making "harassing" calls and text messages. "Douglas County residents have been barraged with intrusive robocalls and text messages from the Elevate Slate," Maynes said. "Some people are receiving multiple texts in a row. Robocalls to cell phones are illegal and what is really annoying about the texts is there is no way to opt-out."

The big dollars are not limited to the IEC that favors the so-called CommUNITY slate. More than $66,000 has been donated to the Elevate candidates by just three people: millionaires Alex Cranberg, Ed McVaney and John Saeman, all of whom are pro-voucher. And Americans for Prosperity, the organization founded by billionaire conservatives Charles and David Koch, also have been running TV ads supporting the conservative majority on the school board. The libertarian Independence Institute also has run an "education campaign" in support of the school board. Neither groups are required to disclose their donors or how much they spend on these campaigns.

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