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Group asks for attorney general to investigate election complaint

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Posted at 8:32 PM, Nov 16, 2023

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — Members of a watchdog group who first alerted the Colorado Springs City Clerk about a potential case of fraud involving a ballot cast by a deceased voter in the April municipal election say the City Attorney's Office was too dismissive of their other concerns about ballot security.

Integrity Matters sent an email detailing their concerns to El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Steve Schleiker in late September. Schleiker then forwarded the message to the City.

City Attorney Wynetta Massey opened an investigation even though the city never received a formal complaint.

Massey released her findings on Tuesday and disclosed that City Clerk Sarah Johnson had referred the dead voter case to the police. She also disclosed that a second ballot flagged by Integrity Matters as potentially coming from a dead voter was returned by the postal service and not processed or counted.

Massey concluded the remaining claims submitted by Integrity Matters did not constitute a violation of city code or state law.

Group members Dr. John Pitchford and Katherine "Kat" Gayle said they are now asking the Colorado Attorney General to review their findings.

"For a democracy to function, voters have to have confidence in the system that their vote will count and that the voice of the people is heard," said Gayle, the group's legal director.

Pitchford explained how the group paid thousands of dollars in fees for open records requests to obtain hundreds of hours of surveillance video from cameras monitoring ballot drop boxes.

One primary complaint in their September email was that video files were missing from multiple ballot boxes.

"We discovered that 42 percent of the cameras were not working, and this is affecting the security of somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000 ballots, we're not sure," Pitchford said.

Massey wrote in her report that "video coverage" of ballot drop boxes is not required under city code or state law.

"Nevertheless, as an extra security measure, the City Clerk requested the County Clerk turn on the cameras at each drop box location," Massey wrote.

She said Schleiker provided two hard drives with the video footage after the mayoral runoff election in May. He included a note indicating the days and times when the cameras were not functioning.

"The City Clerk had no knowledge of this until the video footage was received from the County Clerk," Massey wrote.

Pitchford reviewed some of the videos shared on the Integrity Matters web page and listed examples of issues he claims violate ballot chain of custody regulation.

One video shows election workers struggling to attach transit seals to a container they were using to collect ballots from a drop box outside of Centennial Hall.

"You can obviously see in this video where the transit judges struggle for many minutes trying to put the seals on and ultimately leave with the transit seals in their hand," Pitchford said.

"This Office did not find that transit seals were missing," Massey wrote in her findings. "As a result, there are no reasonable grounds to substantiate a violation of the provisions of Chapter 5 of the City Code or the Colorado Municipal Election Code."

The Integrity Matters open records request also sought hundreds of pages of transit logs. These documents are an official record of the number of ballots collected from each dropbox, along with the location, date, and time of their collection. The forms contain signature boxes for the election judges who picked them up and delivered them to the City Clerk's Office.

"Every transit log had an error, missing a date, time illegible signature, no transit seat number, etc," the group wrote in their September complaint.

Massey said her office found 96 of the 767 ballot transit logs had one data element missing. Of those, 63 logs were missing a date or time in one area, and 23 were missing a signature in one area. Two of the logs had seal numbers that were not written in the correct box on the form, but the numbers were still written on the log.

"Based on the remaining data on each log sheet and the totality of the circumstances, the City Clerk's office concluded ballot security was met," Massey wrote.

"The evidence indicates that none of the missing data on any of the transit logs would constitute a violation of the provision of Chapter 5 of the City Code or of the Colorado Municipal Election Code."

Another video posted to the Integrity Matters web page shows a recording from the surveillance camera inside the City Clerk's Office inside of the City Administration Building (CAB) on election night. The video playback speed was increased.

Pitchford said it demonstrates that election workers did not open a ballot box at 7:06 p.m. as was reported on the corresponding transit log.

"A fraudulent log at the CAB on 4/4/2023 showed 387 votes, yet the chain of custody ballot box video shows it not opened at 7:06 pm or any time near that as the log claimed," the September email states.

Massey explained in her report that the log referenced in the complaint was correct, "however another CAB log of 336 ballots at 7:01 P.M. was misidentified and should have been attributed to the Powers DMV location."

Massey said the mistake was identified by the City Clerk and does not constitute reasonable grounds to substantiate a violation.

Pitchford and Gayle disagreed with Massey's conclusion.

"The questions really were not completely or thoroughly answered," Pitchford said. "Some of them, their responses were totally dismissive."

Gayle ran for an at-large seat on the City Council. She finished fourth in a race where the top three candidates were elected.

Her request to inspect the ballot return envelopes was denied.

The City Attorney said such inspection is not allowed under the Colorado Open Records Act. Gayle says Massey is wrong.

"According to the law, it says a 'person of interest' may examine those envelopes. That was turned around to only a voter may examine their own envelope which is preposterous. Because if only a voter could examine their own envelope then that's what the law would've stated," she said.

The group wants the County Clerk and recorder to run the city's future elections and move them to November. The April election date is part of the city charter and would require an amendment to change.
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