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Inside the frantic effort to count every ballot in the Frisch-Boebert race

Outcome could determine which party controls U.S. House
Pueblo County Election workers open mail-in ballots, preparing them to be counted Nov. 10. The race to represent Colorado's 3rd Congressional District between incumbent Republican Lauren Boebert and Democrat Adam Frisch is separated by a slim margin. (Mike Sweeney/Special to The Colorado Sun)

An army of volunteers and Democratic and Republican party officials are showing up at voters’ doors. They’re sending texts and making calls. They’re doing everything they can to make sure that every ballot cast in the very close, high-stakes race between Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert and her Democratic challenger, former Aspen City Councilman Adam Frisch, is counted.

Even the candidates themselves are getting in on the effort to reach voters in the 3rd Congressional District whose ballots were rejected because of a missing signature or because of a signature discrepancy.

The voter-by-voter push could determine which party controls the U.S. House next year. And the voters whose ballots were rejected are feeling the brunt of that reality. The Colorado Sun reached out to dozens of them on Wednesday to hear their stories.

“I was being hammered all day long and every day for the last week or so,” said Ronald Schebler, a 72-year-old Grand Junction Republican.

Schebler said he received several calls from Boebert’s campaign, and even a ring from the congresswoman herself. He said he cured his ballot Wednesday morning, ahead of the 11:59 p.m. deadline.

“They were very firm to me about getting my vote, which I appreciated,” he said. “I feel like I nominated her myself.” (Schebler said he voted for Boebert.)

Boebert was beating Frisch as of Wednesday by fewer than 1,100 votes, or less than 1 percentage point. It’s unclear how many ballots were rejected in the 3rd District, but as of Wednesday morning there were about 1,800 that still hadn’t been “cured.”

County clerks have until 11:59 p.m. Wednesday to accept cured ballots, as well as ballots postmarked by Election Day from military and overseas voters. All ballots must be counted by the end of Friday, so it’s unlikely the race between Frisch and Boebert will be called until then – at the earliest. Recounts are possible.

(You can check here to see if your ballot was counted.)

Republicans on Wednesday morning were one seat away from having the 218 they need to take back control of the U.S. House. Democrats will keep control of the U.S. Senate.

Boebert was widely expected to beat Frisch in the Republican-leaning district, but the closer-than-expected contest has prompted the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Republican National Committee to scramble operatives to Colorado to secure every vote possible. There are no limits on who can work in Colorado to try to persuade voters to cure their ballot problems.

Democratic challenger Adam Frisch, left, and U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert at their respective watch parties on election night. (The Colorado Sun)

There’s more pressure on Colorado Republicans, who suffered devastating defeats on Election Day and are trying to make sure the 3rd District race isn’t another 2022 disappointment.

“Republicans in Colorado will run through barbed wire to make sure that these ballots are cured and ensure that we send Lauren Boebert back to Washington D.C. to fight for our state,” said Kristi Burton Brown, chairwoman of the Colorado GOP.

Durango resident Stephen Miranda, 26, said he’s been getting about four or five calls per day since Friday. Miranda is an unaffiliated voter, but he cast a ballot this year for Frisch. He said he has been called about curing his ballot solely by Democrats.

“It’s all been pretty simple,” he said “Everybody who’s been calling me seems to have good intentions and very few questions.”

The callers haven’t asked him who he voted for, instead they have given him instructions on how to cure his ballot, he said. He said he’s taking steps to cure his ballot, but hasn’t gone back to ensure it was counted.

Sara Jacobsen, 38, was contacted by only one person who helped walk her though how to cure her ballot. Jacobsen, a Libertarian who lives in Clifton, declined to share whom she voted for in the 3rd District race.

“I didn’t even know my ballot wasn’t counted,” she said. “Obviously I want my vote counted, so I was very happy to get that phone call.”

Other voters told The Sun they have been subject to more aggressive tactics. One Grand Junction man, William Fishburn, a Republican, got an in-person visit Tuesday from someone asking him to fix his ballot’s signature issue.

“A guy came by yesterday and had me sign his pad,” Fishburn said, adding that the man also took a photo of his ID. “He was a nice guy.”

Fishburn voted for Boebert.

Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz, a Democrat, posted on Twitter that he’s heard from voters that volunteers and party officials have sometimes been aggressive or rude – and that they’ve even reached out to voters’ relatives.

“Voters have the right to cure their ballot,” he posted. “They also have the right to not cure.”

If voters don’t cure their ballots, the ballots will be forwarded to local prosecutors for review. Authorities may investigate whether the signature issue was because of something nefarious – and whether to file charges – or just an accident.

“It depends on the district attorney,” said Suzanne Taheri, a conservative lawyer and a former deputy Colorado secretary of state.

But not everyone whose ballot was rejected has been reached by the volunteers or party officials.

Alamosa Democrat David Corona’s ballot was rejected after the 33-year-old’s mother signed his ballot for him. David is autistic and his mother Linda said she has signed his ballot in the past without issue.

(Colorado allows witnesses to sign a witness line on the ballot envelope for people who have a disability, though the voter is supposed to make some kind of mark on the envelope’s voter signature line.)

Corona voted for Frisch, she said. Linda said neither she nor David have heard from anyone asking them to cure David’s ballot.

“My son was disappointed it didn’t go through. We just said whatever,” she said. “We will just work on the next one.”

Gay Roberts, a registered Democrat in Grand Junction, said four volunteers came to her home to help cure her 97-year-old mother’s ballot.

Ballots ready for tabulation are moved in the Pueblo County Elections office late on Nov. 10. (Mike Sweeney/Special to The Colorado Sun)

Because her mother, Dorothy, is blind, her signature is slightly different each year. As her caretaker and power of attorney, Roberts serves as her mother’s witness each election, but her ballot is rejected about every other year.

After a volunteer came to their house Tuesday, Roberts invited the volunteer inside to meet her mother and Dorothy signed her name on the volunteer’s phone. Roberts called to confirm that her mother’s ballot was counted Wednesday morning.

Both Roberts and her mother voted for Frisch.

“There’s been so much attention to her ballot. We are both amazed,” Roberts said.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.