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Late surge of voters boosts turnout in Southwest Colorado

About 44% of all ballots cast showed up on Election Day in La Plata County
Cheryl King votes using the electronic voting machine Tuesday at the La Plata County Clerk and Recorder’s Office in Bodo Park. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Despite projections that turnout in Tuesday’s coordinated election would be low, a late showing of voters pushed turnout up to 43% in La Plata and Montezuma counties, exceeding many expectations.

Statewide, fewer than 37% of voters cast a ballot.

Although Colorado voters are historically active in democratic process, observers and officials estimated that turnout would be low this year, given there were few candidates on the ballot and only a handful of relatively dull ballot questions.

By early counts Tuesday afternoon, 33% of La Plata County voters had returned a ballot and 37% of Montezuma County voters had done so.

But by the time ballot boxes closed, those numbers had risen dramatically. All told, 8,411 ballots in Montezuma County have been counted and 18,300 ballots have been counted in La Plata County.

La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Lee said “I was thrilled” at how the election process went.

“We got creamed,” Lee said happily on Wednesday morning. She had previously predicted 35% turnout and had not expected a surge of votes toward the end of the election.

But, much to her delight, she said there were about 8,000 ballots – 44% of the total number of votes – collected from drop boxes on Election Day.

“I don’t know why people held their ballot,” she said. “That surprised me due to the nature of the content of the ballot. But they obviously did.”

Paul DeBell, associate professor of political science at Fort Lewis College, said that although 43% is still low – less than half the population weighed in on candidates and policies – the higher-than-expected turnout is a positive sign.

The complex nature of Proposition HH – the failed property tax relief question that confounded even the most astute elected officials – meant that many voters waited until the last minute to deliver a ballot, he said.

“There are probably a small percentage of people who felt really, really strong about these measures – but there are also a lot of people who thought, ‘I don’t really feel that strongly about it, I’m confused about it, but it’s really important for me to have my voice heard,’” he said.

DeBell added that he himself, a political science professor, waited to vote until Election Day “just because I was so ambivalent about Prop. HH.”

There are 84 La Plata County ballots that need to be cured – the term for the process a voter must undergo when election judges determine that the signature on the envelope does not match the one on file or is absent entirely.

Those 84 voters will be notified by Lee and have until midnight Nov. 15 to remedy the problem.


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