La Plata County’s three unaffiliated candidates turned in their petitions this week as they aim to secure places on the November ballot.
After organizing and gathering signatures for weeks, Jack Turner, Tiffany Lee and Erin Hutchins submitted their petitions ahead of the 3 p.m. Thursday deadline with each reporting more signatures than they need to make it on the ballot.
It marks the first time La Plata County could have three unaffiliated candidates in one election cycle and the first time the county could have unaffiliated candidates for county clerk and treasurer, said Lee, who is seeking re-election as La Plata County clerk and recorder.
Turner, a candidate for District 1 county commissioner, submitted about 1,200 signatures, while Hutchins, who is running for county treasurer, collected more than 800. Lee gathered more than 600 signatures.
Unaffiliated candidates must petition onto November’s ballot. To do so, they need to meet a 2% threshold based on the total number of votes cast for the office during the last election cycle.
Based on turnout from the 2018 general election (when those offices were last elected), Turner had to collect 555 signatures, Hutchins 551 signatures and Lee 415 signatures, according to county data.
“I’m pretty sure I’ll set the record for a number of signatures ever gotten,” Turner said.
Turner spent weeks collecting signatures, participating in events such as Durango’s July 4 parade and walking door-to-door to raise awareness for his campaign.
“I went to so many public events, everything from (the Durango) farmers market to Farmers Fresh Market in Ignacio to the Bayfield Block Party to the rodeo,” he said.
Hutchins, who works as an election administrator with the La Plata County Clerk and Recorder’s Office, has likewise been conducting outreach, attending the farmers market, parades and events put on by the Durango Chamber of Commerce to find support for her petition.
“I’m feeling pretty comfortable, but I don’t want to put the cart before the horse,” she said. “We usually recommend that candidates that are petitioning do at least 10% over what they’re required to have.”
The Clerk and Recorder’s Office must verify addresses and names to ensure signatures are from eligible voters in La Plata County and the petitions are sufficient. The Clerk and Recorder’s Office has until Aug. 4 to complete that process and confirm that the unaffiliated candidates are eligible for November’s ballot.
Candidates who go through the petition process typically see about a 10% rejection rate of the signatures they collect because of inaccuracies in names or addresses, Lee said.
Turner, Hutchins and Lee have each collected well above that 10% mark, making their inclusion on the 2022 general election ballot likely.
Though gathering signatures can be challenging, the three unaffiliated candidates expressed an appreciation for the process and the belief that all candidates, including those in political parties, should have to petition their way onto the ballot.
“It’s a lot of work to go get signatures. It’s hard to ask people and it’s hard to put yourself out there. But it’s really rewarding because you get to meet people you never thought of meeting and have those good conversations,” Lee said. “I wish everybody had to run by petition. It just makes you work really hard and get out there and meet people.”
The investment La Plata County’s unaffiliated candidates have made to secure their places in the 2022 elections is particularly noticeable in the District 1 commissioner race, where both Republican Brad Blake and Democrat Clyde Church have run unopposed through their party’s caucuses and primaries and eased onto the ballot without having to collect signatures or appeal to voters.
Turner hopes to use the relatively lax process for party candidates to his advantage, having engaged voters on the ground for weeks now. But like Lee, he views the lack of a petition process for La Plata County’s political parties as a shortcoming of the electoral system.
“It makes me meet people,” Turner said. “The hungry dog fights harder. I just feel like if you want to make politics relevant, make everybody have to get signatures.”
After switching her registration in 2020, Lee, who was first elected in 2010 as a Republican, will run as an unaffiliated candidate for clerk and recorder for the first time in November.
Lee has no opponents.
Hutchins will face incumbent Allison Aichele, a Democrat, in the race for La Plata County treasurer.
As with Turner, she hopes the challenge of the petition process will benefit her come November.
“It’s not just one party that we’re connecting with. It’s really made me reach out to a whole range of people – different parties, different beliefs – in all parts of the counties,” Hutchins said. “It’s really been a neat experience.”