BY FREDA MIKLIN
At the March 25 study session of the Aurora City Council, Charlie Richardson, city council member running for re-election in November from Ward 4, said “As of now the Ward 4 race in this city is corrupt. You have the person responsible for administering the vote endorsing, supporting and donating to my opponent.”
Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder Joan Lopez, elected in November, does not deny her support of Richardson’s opponent, Juan Marcano, who she publicly endorsed on her personal Facebook page in a post that has since been removed. She said, “I understand Councilmember Richardson’s concerns, however I can assure everyone there is no corruption in the Ward 4 race or elsewhere. I have, as many elected officials have in the past, personally donated to a candidate I support. This in no way compromises the integrity of the elections process, nor would I even consider providing “insider information” to any candidate. One of my duties as the Clerk & Recorder is to ensure a fair and transparent elections process, and I take that responsibility very seriously.”
Richardson, seeking assurance that the election will be conducted fairly, said, at the study session, “I’ve asked the election commission to prepare the cost of the city administering its own general municipal election this November.” City Clerk Stephen Ruger testified that the city’s appointed election commission will hold a special meeting April 3 to consider the question and the associated cost. It is worth noting that Aurora’s website lists the purpose of the election commission as, “To establish precincts, appoint election judges, create new ward boundaries, and break the tie in a municipal election for any city office or ballot question.”
Council members Dave Gruber and Françoise Bergman, along with Mayor Bob LeGare, expressed concern about Lopez’ behavior, but did not endorse holding an independent election. Council members Allison Hiltz and Crystal Murillo were less disturbed by Lopez publicly supporting Marcano as a private citizen, which everyone on city council agreed was 100 percent legal. The use of an election monitor was discussed.
On March 28, Richardson said he was “not worried about an accurate count,” if Aurora eventually decided to participate in the combined countywide election, noting he was very sensitive to the potential impact on taxpayers of the unbudgeted cost of changing the way the election is conducted at this late date. Still, he was worried about “all the discretionary things that the clerk could do in the context of the election.”
It has been the practice of the Arapahoe County Clerk to identify voters whose ballots have been received in the days leading up to an election. That data is commonly used by candidates to identify who they could contact to get more votes. In theory, if that information were received by any candidate earlier than his or her opponent, it could provide an unfair advantage. No allegation has been made nor evidence presented against Lopez or anyone in her office to indicate they would do that and Lopez has stated categorically that she would not engage in such behavior.
At the end of the study session Richardson said, “The Ward 4 race is corrupt and it’s going to remain corrupt. It’s going to be up to my colleagues what to do. A monitor is not sufficient.”
LeGare, in a subsequent interview said, “I believe that when you’re in the position of county clerk and recorder you should consider forgoing your right to publicly support a candidate in an election you are overseeing so that you don’t damage the trust of the office you hold. Shining a light on this situation will cause the Arapahoe County Clerk to err on the side of excellence.”
The City of Aurora Elections Commission has scheduled a special meeting on April 3 at 6:00 p.m. at the City Café on the second floor of the Aurora Municipal Center at 15151 E. Alameda Parkway, Aurora, CO 80012.
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