Incumbent Sheriff Bill Elder appeared assured of another four years as the county's top lawman on Tuesday night.

As of 9:45 p.m., he had about 121,400 votes, or about 66 percent, according to early returns. His Democratic counterpart, Grace Sweeney-Maurer, had nearly 61,500 votes, or nearly 34 percent, unofficial preliminary results show.

"We worked hard at this. I’m glad it’s over. I’m tired of the nonsense that has gone on in politics, and my race wasn’t immune to it," Elder said. 

"I’m frankly shocked that that many people voted party lines," he added. 

The El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office did not have an estimate of how many votes were still left to be counted. 

The lead signals that Elder is likely to have another four years to work on the problems facing the law enforcement agency, from a jail that’s facing record-high populations to a spate of illegal marijuana grows that his administration says have proliferated since pot was legalized.

Elder spent more than 20 years working for the Sheriff ’s Office and Fountain Police Department before his election four years ago.

In the June Republican primary, he defeated Retired Air Force Col. Mike Angley, who made reports of internal dissatisfaction with Elder’s leadership a focal point of his campaign. 

But Elder's supporters have said he has improved morale among staff and restored professionalism to the office after disgraced ex-Sheriff Terry Maketa stepped down in 2014.

“The environment just seems so much safer for all of our deputies and detectives,” said Sheriff's Sgt. Jake Abendschan, who was at a Republican watch party at the Colorado Springs Country Club on Tuesday night to cheer Elder on. “Overall, the relationship with the community has improved substantially.”

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During Elder's campaign, he touted his efforts to form partnerships with other local law enforcement agencies and highlighted the crackdown on illegal marijuana grows. He said his administration estimates the number of illegal grows has fallen from about 650 to about 300 since the beginning of the year and plans to continue the push into next year.

Sweeney-Maurer, who previously worked with the Honolulu Police Department as a training facilitator, was nominated from the floor at the Democratic Party’s county assembly in March.

During her campaign, she emphasized the need to reduce the jail population, put more patrols on the street, and improve trust in the Sheriff’s Office. She also said she would push for more community-based solutions to help people with mental illnesses and find alternatives to incarceration.  

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