By Marianne Goodland
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
The counting of provisional ballots is over in Colorado counties, and Republicans can finally declare victory in their efforts to take control of the Colorado House.
The effort by Rep. Kathleen Curry, U-Gunnison, to keep her House District 61 seat is at an end, and two Senate seats that were watched closely on election night appear to be decided in favor of the Democrats, allowing them a 20-15 majority, one seat fewer than in the 67th General Assembly.
The House seats that were being watched by Democrats were House District 29, HD 33, HD 50 and HD 61. Democrats hoped that provisional ballot counts in HD 29 and HD 33 might change the election night results, and hoped they would hang onto the seats in HD 50 and HD 61.
HD 61 was the most unusual of the election night races. Incumbent Curry launched a write-in campaign after she changed her party status from Democrat to unaffiliated but did so too late to get onto the ballot. After election night, the race in HD 61 was winnowed down to two candidates: Democrat Roger Wilson of Glenwood Springs and Curry. (Republican Luke Korkowski conceded.)
Curry trailed Wilson by around 611 votes after Nov. 2. However, the district had more than 2,000 undervotes — ballots that weren’t recorded as having been voted for the legislative race — scattered among its five counties. Denver District Court Judge John Madden IV ordered that those undervotes be rechecked. Secretary of State Bernie Buescher had ruled that votes for Curry should count only if voters checked a box next to the write-in line, but Madden disagreed, ordering clerks to count votes where Curry’s name was written on the HD 61 line but the box had not been checked.
By the end of the day Tuesday, Curry had picked up more than 200 undervotes. In Pitkin County, she got about 20 percent of the undervotes, or 110 out of 597. She got 78 more votes in Gunnison County, 14 more in Eagle County and seven from Hinsdale County, leaving her 403 votes short. On Wednesday, Garfield County, the largest in her district, checked 800 undervotes but only 94 were counted for Curry, putting her 309 votes short of Wilson’s total. Vote totals for Curry also aren’t enough to put her into the margin for an automatic recount. Colorado statutes allow for an automatic recount if the difference between the highest number of votes cast and the next highest number of votes cast is less than one-half of one percent of the highest votes cast. In the case of the Wilson-Curry race, that margin would be about 48 votes.
Curry conceded the race to Wilson on Wednesday, shortly after the Garfield County results were announced.
Election night returns showed that in HD 29, Rep.-elect Robert Ramirez was leading Rep. Debbie Benefield by 208 votes out of more than 24,000 votes cast. In HD 33, Rep.-elect Donald Beezley led Rep. Dianne Primavera by 305 votes out of more than 34,000 cast.
The counts in HD 29 and HD 33 changed based on the number of outstanding provisional ballots in five counties: Adams, Boulder, Broomfield, Jefferson and Weld. In Jeffco, which affects HD 29, there were more than 4,000 provisional ballots to be counted, although about 535 were thought to be in HD 29. Votes from the other four counties all affect HD 33, with more than 10,000 provisional ballots that awaited counts.
The House race most hoped for a turn-around after Nov. 2 was HD 29. Last week, newly-elected House Minority Leader Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, told supporters that with thousands of ballots remaining to be counted it would be “presumptuous and disrespectful” for Republicans to ignore the wishes of the voters. With regard to the HD 29 seat, “our analysis shows that this race remains too close to call.” Benefield would need to capture about 145 more votes than Ramirez in the provisional ballot count in order to trigger the automatic recount. And were she to gain the needed 208 votes, control of the House would go back to the Democrats.
On Thursday afternoon, Jefferson County released its final, and official, election results. With the provisional ballots counted, Benefield had picked up only 11 more votes than Ramirez, and Ramirez had won the seat by 197 votes, well outside the margin for an automatic recount.
In HD 33, the final, albeit unofficial, numbers are in, and it appears to have been decided in favor of Beezley. Results from the four counties show he won the seat with 18,139 votes to Primavera’s 17,868 votes, a difference of 271 votes. The automatic recount is triggered at 90 votes. Primavera conceded the race election night.
In HD 50, prior to the provisional and mail-in ballot counts, Rep. Jim Riesberg held a 227-vote lead over Republican challenger Robert Boswell with about 14,400 ballots cast. Final unofficial results from Weld County show that Riesberg’s lead increased to 266 votes out of 15,000 total votes. Boswell conceded the race on Nov. 13.
Based on spending from 527 groups during the election season, the crown jewel of the statehouse races was Senate District 11, the seat held by Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs. The race pulled in at least $1.5 million from outside groups seeking to influence voters, much of it in TV or radio ads; the two candidates also raised a combined $300,000.
But on Tuesday evening, Hill conceded the election to Morse after El Paso County released their provisional ballot counts. Election night results showed Morse led the race by 258 votes, but with about 600 provisional ballots in the district waiting to be counted. Tuesday afternoon, Morse told The Colorado Statesman that “lots of people have been losing sleep [over this race] the last two weeks, but I’m not one of them.”
Unofficial final results from El Paso County showed Morse with 13,866 votes and Hill with 13,526 votes. Morse picked up 333 more votes after provisional ballots were counted; Hill picked up 267.
In SD 16, an open seat, the race hinged on the provisional ballot and mail-in votes outstanding in six counties: Boulder, Clear Creek, Gilpin, Grand, Jefferson and Summit. Election night results showed Republican Tim Leonard leading Democrat Jeanne Nicholson by 372 votes out of more than 55,000 votes cast. However, according to Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, updated tallies later in the week showed Nicholson with a 518-vote lead. That lead increased to 704 votes after mail-in and provisional ballot counting was completed and reported by the county clerks in all but Jefferson County. Wednesday evening, Leonard conceded the race, saying in a press release that he was short more votes than could be added by outstanding provisional ballots for the district from Jefferson County.
House Democrats conceded the majority Thursday afternoon. Pace told reporters that the House majority was decided by less than 200 votes, the smallest margin since 1923. And while it is up to the Colorado Democratic Party to ask for a recount, Pace said he believed the vote margin makes that “impractical.”
“No party has a mandate,” Pace said. “The voters’ mandate is for bipartisan control… Voters want us to work across party lines. I pledge to honor their message.”
Ramirez told The Statesman that while negative attack ads “beat me to a pulp, hard work prevailed. I’m excited and look forward to representing my district.” In a statement Thursday, House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, said that Republicans and Democrats need to start the hard work of getting Colorado’s economy moving again.
“Now that every vote has been counted and the election season is officially behind us, I am looking forward to working on an economy-driven agenda on behalf of Colorado families,” Stephens said. “With the new House Majority in place, it is time to put the electoral politics aside and get to work on behalf of Colorado citizens.”