Things were tense at times Saturday at the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's office as county election officials began conducting electronic recounts for four races from the June 28 primaries.
All four candidates requesting recounts lost by double-digit margins, according to June 28 results. Secretary of State Republican primary candidate and Mesa County clerk Tina Peters, with 28% of the vote, lost to former Jefferson County Clerk Pam Anderson, who had 43%.
In the GOP primary for El Paso County clerk, Peter Lupia lost with 35% of the vote to Steve Schleiker's 64%.
In the El Paso County coroner's GOP primary race, Dr. Rae Ann Weber lost with 34% of the vote, to incumbent Dr. Leon Kelley's 65%.
In the state Senate District 9 GOP primary, Lynda Zamora Wilson lost with 33% of the vote to Paul Lundeen's 66%.
Peters, Lupia, Weber and Wilson each paid for the recounts, since the margins of defeat were greater than the margin for state-mandated, and thus taxpayer-funded, automatic recounts.
Under state law, the recounts that began Saturday must be completed by the close of business on Thursday.
In a room closed to the public but viewable through multiple windows, election officials, bipartisan election judges, Canvass Board members, candidates or their appointed watchers took part in Saturday's proceedings.
Before the recounts could begin, the Clerk's Office conducted a logic and accuracy test that began Friday and was completed about 1:30 p.m. Saturday. The test gives voting machines from the primaries a batch of 4,200 test ballots of which officials know the outcome.
On Saturday evening, the Clerk's Office released a statement confirming that the logic and accuracy test was in fact successful, passing with 100% accuracy.
The point of the test, according to El Paso County Clerk Chuck Broerman, is to make sure the machine tabulates the votes correctly, putting the ballots into the correct bins etc. The test batch also simulates improperly marked ballots, such as when someone fills in only half the bubble or doesn't vote for that particular race at all. Such ballots get kicked out for a bipartisan group of local election judges to review. These improperly marked ballots are only reviewed in recounts.
Janna Blanter, a GOP volunteer who previously has served as an election judge, said one common ballot issue she has seen is that someone will circle a box for one candidate, cross it out with an "X," and choose the other one. There also are cases in which a voter simply fills in a box too faintly.
"One of the things I've seen adjudicated was ... nothing is checked off, but [there is] this long missive about protests and all that stuff," Blanter said.
The voting machines used in El Paso County since 2017 and around Colorado since 2016, came under scrutiny mostly notably in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, with supporters of former President Donald Trump's claims of a stolen election leading the criticism.
Broerman said he understands where the fear and skepticism comes from.
"I understand the passion by which this comes from. This stems from the 2020 election. President Trump won by a little over 11 points here in El Paso County, but people have concerns about what they see in other states, and then they overlay their concerns and fears on the local area."
To that end, Broerman asked the public to take their concerns to their county clerk and recorder, whether they live in El Paso County, Teller, Fremont, Pueblo or elsewhere instead of trusting what's on social media. Even information that is accurate for other states, may not be accurate for Colorado, he said.
In a news release sent Friday, Peters claimed that the machine at the El Paso County Clerk's Office failed the logic and accuracy test "in a spectacular fashion with over a 50% error rate out of the 4,000+ ballots tested."
Broerman called that statement "totally inaccurate" and went on to say that "It's very unfortunate that people are using this for political gain.
"We are working hard to deliver the best results possible. We are election professionals. ... We depend on elections to be run by your neighbors, the people you work with, the people that you go to bridge club or go to church with."
Broerman said Peters was calling the machines sending improperly marked ballots out to bipartisan human eyes for adjudication an error, which is false. The machines were operating in compliance with state law, he said.
Among other procedures, the Clerk's Office release said that the four candidates or their representatives were allowed to hand-mark 10 random ballots and compare their hand counts to tabulated results.
Afterward, Weber said she still had concerns, calling the process "revealing" but not "reassuring."
"We are given what we are shown here and take that to be, 'You can accept this or you don't have any other recourse.' We don't get to look inside the machines. We don't get to edit programming, we don't get to look at the code," she said.