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A group of bipartisan election judges, staff from the Clerk and Recorder's office, and candidates Peter Lupia, Rae Ann Weber, Lynda Zamora Wilson, and a representative for Tina Peters, work through their second day at the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's office on Saturday. The four Republican candidates requested a recount and paid for the costs despite significant gaps in their primary election losses of 2022.

Following disputed claims that El Paso County’s ballot tabulation equipment failed logic and accuracy testing ahead of recounts of four GOP primary election races, and amid two related lawsuits leveled at the county clerk and Colorado secretary of state, a handful of residents urged commissioners Tuesday to insist on hand recounts.

But several Colorado election officials said El Paso County’s equipment passed with flying colors and worked exactly how it was supposed to.

Clerk and Recorder Chuck Broerman’s office began rescanning ballots over the recent weekend in four discretionary recounts of the Republican primary races for clerk and recorder, coroner, Senate District 9 and secretary of state at the request of unsuccessful candidates Peter Lupia, Dr. Rae Ann Weber, Lynda Zamora Wilson and Tina Peters, respectively.

Each candidate initially requested hand recounts. But Colorado election law states recounts must be done using the same form of tabulation used to count the original votes, which is by machine.

Before the recounts could get underway, the county clerk’s office conducted a public logic and accuracy test on all its ballot counting equipment to ensure each machine processed and tabulated ballots correctly. The test gave voting machines a batch of 4,200 test ballots, of which officials knew the outcome, and passed with 100% accuracy, Broerman’s office reported Saturday night.

But ahead of the test's completion, unverified claims spread quickly that it had failed.

Peters, the embattled Mesa County clerk and recorder, sent a press release Friday evening saying El Paso County’s logic and accuracy test failed "in a spectacular fashion, with over a 50% error rate out of the 4,000-plus ballots tested."

Peters has been a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump’s claims the 2020 election was stolen, which elections officials in Colorado and elsewhere have repeatedly refuted. Peters is also under indictment on several felony charges related to accusations she tampered with voting equipment in Mesa County.

On Tuesday, residents who backed Peters' allegations about El Paso County’s logic and accuracy test pushed commissioners to insist on a hand recount of the races, despite information from the county Clerk and Recorder's Office that its ballot tabulation equipment passed the test.

"El Paso County has made national news and the only way to fix this is to have a manual recount with tons of volunteers to get to the bottom of what is really happening in our 'gold standard' county," resident LaDonna Robertson said during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s regular Board of County Commissioners meeting. "I implore you to do your job, which is to help facilitate the will of the people. … Please insist that Broerman do a manual recount."

Election officials across Colorado told The Gazette Tuesday that Peters incorrectly attributed unmarked races sent to human teams of bipartisan judges for adjudication — known as undervotes — as errors in the test. 

"The term 'error' is not the correct term to use," said Carly Koppes, Weld County's clerk and recorder and past president of the Colorado County Clerks Association. El Paso County and the additional 62 counties that conducted logic and accuracy tests of their ballot tabulation equipment ahead of their recounts "saw more ballots going to be reviewed ... by humans. The scanner is not erring. The scanner is saying, 'You, human, have to tell me which bucket to put this marble in.'"

During a logic and accuracy test conducted for a recount, the ballot tabulation machines are set to catch undervotes as an added layer of precaution, said Matt Crane, executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association and a former Arapahoe County clerk and recorder. Undervotes occur when a voter fills in a bubble for a race too faintly or when a voter fills in a bubble for a race, crosses it out and then marks another one, for example.

"For a recount, we want to make sure that we turn over every stone to make sure that the voter’s intent goes in for every race," he said. If there is a question of the voter's intent in a race on the ballot, it goes through human review to provide more security and, "I want to stress, accuracy," Crane said.

Fremont County Clerk Justin Grantham said El Paso County's machines worked as intended.

"The machine did what it was supposed to do and what it was told to do," he said.

Residents on Tuesday also criticized the approximately $20,800 price tag, paid by the candidates who requested the recount, as a "ridiculous amount of money" used to discourage the recount.

Broerman said the charges "are usual and customary," and reflect the work Broerman's office, including volunteer election judges, are doing to rescan about 153,000 ballots. El Paso County is the only county in the state simultaneously rescanning ballots for four races.

"We have the complexity that no other county has at this time or in any recent history of having four simultaneous recounts. It's important to these candidates, their supporters and our citizens that we conduct this recount in the most robust way possible. That all takes time and cost," he said.

A group of Republican candidates who sought recounts after losing their primary races went to Denver and El Paso county courts this week requesting Broerman and Secretary of State Jena Griswold remove "exorbitant" costs for vendor programming and support in the cost estimates for the recounts. 

The lawsuit filed in El Paso County asks the court to order Griswold and Broerman to remove those costs in all requests for recounts, return any over-payment, and allow candidates who have not paid in full another opportunity to pay the adjusted costs.

The suit filed in Denver court seeks to stop the recount and compel the Secretary of State's Office to conduct it instead, alleging the recount "has not been conducted in a fair, impartial and uniform manner."

Specifically, the group, which included Tina Peters, accused El Paso County of using "improperly tested and unreliable electronic voting systems." They said Broerman should give Griswold's office access to the election records and let the latter conduct the recount.

County commissioners made no indication Tuesday they would ask Broerman's office for a hand count. Commissioner Cami Bremer, who is running for reelection to represent District 5 and who won her GOP primary race against challenger David Winney, called the accusations against Broerman's office "baseless."

"Everyone has a right to demand transparency from their government. Everyone has a right to, within the confines of the law and subject to the costs associated, demand a recount under the law for any reason," she said. "But when the legal process has been followed, as I believe it has, we must be committed to accepting the results."

Commission Chairman Stan VanderWerf, who is not running for reelection this year, encouraged residents to become election judges to experience the process for themselves. 

Broerman said he was not inclined to conduct a hand recount, both because state election law does not allow it and because the method is subject to human error.

"We follow the law to the letter. And I think we as citizens want accurate results. Repeatable results. A hand count is not repeatable," he said. "This is where the mal-information comes in, where people deliberately characterize something that is not true. This is not right in a representative democracy. We must be fair and honest and some people are misrepresenting this for political gain."

Broerman's office must complete the recounts by Thursday and is on track to do so, officials confirmed this week.

Reporter

Breeanna Jent covers El Paso County government. She previously worked as the editorial assistant for the Pikes Peak Newspapers and joined their sister paper, The Gazette, in 2020.

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