Speculation about stuffed ballot boxes, old-style political intrigue erupts in Adams County

The Colorado Statesman

Adams County Democrats sent two-term Commissioner Alice Nichol packing at the county assembly on Saturday but not before a snag in the ballot count raised tensions that were already running high inside the exhibit hall at the fairgrounds in Brighton.

Delegates delivered a stinging rebuke to Nichol, a former state lawmaker who is the subject of an investigation by the neighboring District Attorney Scott Storey over her involvement in a multimillion-dollar fraudulent billing scandal involving a local paving company, handing her roughly 25 percent of the vote, shy of the 30 percent needed to make the primary ballot.

House District 30 candidate Jenise May and state Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Aurora, visit with Democrats at the Adams County Democratic assembly on march 17 in Brighton.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Instead, Democrats delivered the District 2 nomination to union official Charles “Chaz” Tedesco, who has run on an anti-corruption platform.

In the contest for the open District 1 seat, Eva Henry top-lined for the June primary with 59 percent of the vote, ahead of Ken Ciancio, who garnered 36 percent. Westminster Councilman Mark Kaiser trailed at 5 percent.

State Senate candidate Jessie Ulibarri and House candidate Joe Salazar take in the crowd at the Adams County Democratic assembly on March 17 in Brighton. Both were nominated unopposed to run in the fall election for open seats.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

The pair of tight county commissioner races headlined the assembly, which otherwise dispatched its business without much fuss. In the only other contested race, Commerce City Councilman Dominick Moreno managed to keep the city’s mayor pro tem, Tracey Snyder, off the House District 32 primary ballot by winning 80 percent of the vote, though Snyder said she plans to petition her way on.

State Rep. Cherylin Peniston, D-Westminster, poses for a snapshot with legislative candidate Steve Lebsock, a Thornton councilman, at the Adams County Democratic assembly on March 17.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

The keenly anticipated commissioner results weren’t available until two days later, however, after party officials discovered that more ballots had been cast than there were delegates at the assembly. When the discrepancy was discovered — ballot counters said they wound up with 36 more voted ballots than they should have had, out of approximately 400 votes cast — the proceedings ground to a halt, leaving restless Democrats to speculate about stuffed ballot boxes and old-style political intrigue.

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall catches up with former Adams County Democratic chair Pat Moore after addressing the county assembly.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“They think they’ve got too many ballots. I don’t think they got too many ballots, I think Tedesco has won and they don’t know what to do about it,” said Julia Hicks, a Tedesco supporter. “It’s the old hats, the old guard, and they’re going out the door. That’s it in a nutshell. And I think he kicked her behind — straight up.”

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter visits with Adams 14 Board of Education President Robert Vashaw and his grandson Cyrus Dickman at the Adams County Democratic assembly on March 17 in Brighton.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Thornton Councilman Val Vigil, who served as a ballot-counter at the assembly, sounded more sanguine after party officers announced they planned to audit the ballots — compare signatures on the slips with the names of qualified delegates — off-site rather than immediately undertake the painstaking review.

Commerce City Mayor Pro Tem Tracey Snyder and her mother, Carol, greet delegates at the Adams County Democratic assembly on March 17. Snyder came up short in the delegate vote in a bid to run for House District 32, falling under the 30 percent threshold for a spot in the June primary, but says she plans to petition her way on the ballot.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“The numbers didn’t add up,” he sighed. After describing the planned audit, he added, “It doesn’t happen all the time. It happens once in a while, but not by that many votes.”

Amid it all, Nichol maintained a steadfast confidence and accepted encouraging hugs from longtime supporters as the count dragged on.

“Well, it’s all over but the shouting, but I don’t know what the shout is,” she said. Saying that she had her fingers crossed, she added, “Nobody knows anything. We’re just waiting for the count.”

House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, greets Commerce City Councilman Dominick Moreno outside the Adams County Democratic assembly on March 17 in Brighton. Ferrandino nominated Moreno to run in House District 32 and he nabbed 80 percent of the delegate vote, securing the only place so far allotted on the primary ballot. (His opponent, Tracey Snyder, fell short at assembly but said she plans to petition onto the ballot.)
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Henry shook her head as word leaked out from the cordoned-off counting area.

“My confidence is a little low,” she said with a weary shake of her head. “There’s too many rumors going around, they won’t let the candidates know what’s going on — that’s kind of frustrating.” She said that along with other candidates she had vetoed a proposed revote because nearly half of her supporters had already left, headed to work, children’s birthday parties or planes to catch.

Adams County commissioner candidate Eva Henry and state Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton, visit at the Adams County Democratic assembly on March 17. Henry won top line on the primary for an open commissioner seat.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Laverna McManus, whose husband, Don, served in the state Senate for four terms beginning in the 1960s, chuckled that it wouldn’t have been a county assembly without a wrench in the proceedings. “It’s been goofed up, and I think I might be the one who did it,” she said, guessing that she might have marked a ballot incorrectly.
Told that the problem involved nearly 40 ballots that shouldn’t have been cast, she looked relieved. “Well, somebody just padded the box,” she said with a grin.

The ultimate explanation was less scandalous.

Colorado State Board of Education 7th CD member Jane Goff and Nancy Perlmutter, whose husband, Ed, represents the 7th CD in Congress, crowd around Jefferson County Democrat Ann Knollman at the Adams County Democratic assembly on March 17 in Brighton.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Although the vast majority of delegates to the county assembly were also county convention delegates — the two proceedings, while held concurrently, are distinct legal proceedings, one designating state and local nominees and the other sending up delegates to the presidential nominating convention — some were just delegates to one or the other entity. This distinction, county officials said, wasn’t accounted for when ballots were distributed, and several dozen convention delegates received ballots that should have only gone to assembly delegates. The audit resolved the discrepancy, they said.

State Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, and Adams County Commissioner Alice Nichol pose for a snapshot at the Adams County Democratic assembly on March 17 in Brighton. “I’m proud to stand with Alice Nichol,” Tochtrop said as delegates cast ballots to determine whether Nichol would win nomination to a third term. She came up short, falling below the 30 percent threshold required for a spot on the ballot. Photos by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Underlining the importance Democrats place in Adams County — once reliably Democratic, its rapidly expanding suburbs have been serving up more and more Republican votes in recent years — U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, whose new district lines encompass different stretches of the county, addressed the crowd.

Thornton Democrat Dennis Tonsager and Thornton City Councilman Val Vigil greet Democrats on their way in to the Adams County Democratic assembly on March 17 in Brighton.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Nichol has until April 2 to turn in more than 3,000 valid petition signatures if she wants a place on the June 26 primary ballot. She couldn’t be reached for comment by press time and party officials said they didn’t know what her plans were.

Carol Snyder leans in to supervise ballot counting as Adams County Clerk and Recorder Karen Long, in the vest, looks on at the Adams County Democratic assembly on March 17 in Brighton.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com