By TERESA L. BENNS
SAGUACHE - The three-member Committee to Recall Melinda Myers announced Tuesday that volunteers have gathered 816 signatures within the time period prescribed by law, 200 more than needed to move forward and set a date for the county clerk’s recall election.
Committee members Steve Carlson, John Baker and Pat Jenkins supervised more than 10 volunteers who fanned out across rural Saguache County for two months to find signers for the petitions.
“All along I was very confident that the estimated numbers we needed were there,” former commissioner’s candidate Steve Carlson said. “It seemed like a huge task to get this accomplished in the time we had, so I’m proud, happy and thankful for all petition gatherers.”
Carlson himself was able to collect signatures for a good number of petitions and several other volunteers filled out two petitions or more.
“They did a good job and every signature counts,” Carlson added. “A big thanks to all of them for a great effort.”
Last month commissioners appointed County Treasurer Connie Trujillo as the designated election official for the recall, since by law Myers is unable to act as the appointed election official in a recall involving herself. The El Paso County Clerk’s Office has agreed to conduct the recall election.
Trujillo will give the Recall Committee a receipt for the signatures, then will take the unverified signatures to El Paso County officials Friday for vetting. The signatures must be found sufficient within 10 days.
Once the certified petitions are returned, “Melinda has five days to resign,” Trujillo said. “Then she has 15 days to protest the recall,” although the five-day resignation period is part of that 15 days, she noted.
If a protest is filed, hearings would have to be held and it could be another 30 days before the actual recall election is scheduled. Once the protest period has passed, commissioners can set the election date for not less than 45 nor more than 75 days from the date of the initial declaration of sufficiency. Myers has 10 days from the date of sufficiency to compose her 300-word statement for the ballot, explaining why she should not be recalled.
Registered Saguache County voters must petition on as candidates for the clerk’s position within 15 days from the date commissioners convene to set the election. Trujillo said she has copies of the petitions in her office for those who wish to become candidates.
On Nov. 5, 2010, Myers called for a second count of the election ballots voted Nov. 2, which changed the leaders in two races. This change put Democrat Melinda Myers ahead of Republican challenger Carla Gomez and Democratic incumbent Commissioner Linda Joseph ahead of Republican Steven Carlson. Uncertainty remains about what the “second count” or “retabulation” consisted of and whether or not it was legal.
In their statement of grounds for recall, the group cites gross negligence on the part of Myers in fulfilling her sworn duties as Clerk and Recorder.
The Recall Committee objected to Myers’ violation of state election rules and regulations and her refusal to cooperate with a review by Secretary of State Scott Gessler soon after taking office. Gessler called for a second review that would let the public see the ballots without overturning the election results.
Myers refused to turn over the ballots, arguing that such a review would violate the secrecy of voters’ ballots. There is no provision for “secrecy of voters’ ballots” in Colorado law. “All elections by the people shall be by ballot, and in case paper ballots are required to be used, no ballots shall be marked in any way whereby the ballot can be identified as the ballot of the person casting it.”
Gessler won his case last month, resulting in the citizens’ review of the ballots he promised Saguache residents in March. Citizen counting judges discovered several discrepancies and anomalies in the review and objected that SOS staff overseeing the hand count of the two contested races did not allow them to examine ballots for the ambulance race, mail-in ballots by precinct or Crestone ballots by precinct.
On the final day of the review, Myers came to the Community Center in Saguache where the ballots were being reviewed to announce that she was commandeering certain mail-in ballots and ballots from small precincts that she felt were easily identifiable. Myers waved an envelope supposedly containing a court order to collect the ballots, but later it was discovered that no such court order existed.
Last week the clerk declared an embargo on Colorado Open Record Act (CORA) requests, stating in an e-mail that: “I have...decided to adopt an office policy...that defers answering CORA requests starting 45 days before an election until 20 days after. At that time they will all be addressed.”
Many of the questions that arose following the 2010 election could not be addressed properly because Myers refused to answer CORA requests for public records such as vote tallies, reports and other key election documents. According to Colorado statute, such requests must be answered within three business days.
For more information, visit the Saguache Citizens for Fair Government website at: www.saguacheco.net.