Commissioners vote 2-1 to defund election equipment

RBC | Rio Blanco County Commissioners voted 2-1 this week in favor of defunding Dominion-based vote tabulation machines in the Clerk and Recorder’s office. If implemented, the move would require election officials to hand-count all votes in future elections.

The decision came following back-and-forth comments by current/former election officials (who spoke against the measure) and RBC residents who questioned the security of dominion machines (who spoke in favor). 

“Adoption of this measure will cause chaos in the clerk and recorder’s office during the 2022 election cycle, and will expose RBC to serious liability and litigation,” said County Clerk Boots Campbell Tuesday. She voiced strong opposition to the measure, and pushed back on claims of fraud, miscounts and other alleged discrepancies in the county’s election verification process. 

She emphasized the matter would wind up before the Deputy Secretary of State, and noted that even if it goes through (following a required public hearing) it will not impact tabulation systems of this year’s elections. 

“We have paid our license fees in maintenance through September of this year,” said Campbell, describing how use of Dominion machines is already “a done deal” for upcoming elections,  including the recall effort against Commissioner Gary Moyer – set for May 10.

“This is not about me trying to prevent a vote of the recall,” stated Moyer, who voted to defund ballot tabulation machines based in part on the claim that Dominion Voting Systems “have internal modems that can be accessed from any computer in the world.” 

The claim, repeated by other residents who spoke about “election integrity,” is one of many being made on the national stage by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. It has yet to be substantiated in court, despite Dominion lawyers’ efforts in early January to request discovery documents from Lindell as part of an ongoing $1.3 billion lawsuit.

Though still not demonstrated on the legal front, Rangely resident Susie Berardi said evidence of the claim exists in forensic reports conducted by former Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters. Peters was recently indicted by a grand jury on 10 criminal counts for alleged actions “designed to influence public servants, breach security protocols, exceed permissible access to voting equipment, and set in motion the eventual distribution of confidential information to unauthorized people” according to a Mesa County Court Filing. 

Berardi also claimed that Peter’s reports proved Mesa County’s election information had been destroyed. “So it probably could not be concluded, but certainly inferred, that our election records were destroyed as well,” stated Berardi.

Campbell refuted the idea that RBC’s election records had been destroyed, noting her office still has all ballots from the 2020 election, along with other related info, as required by state and federal law. “If anybody’s interested I’d be more than happy to share any information that I have from the 16 years that I’ve been working in elections,” said Campbell, who told the HT in a prior story that residents who made claims of vote count discrepancies did not request to verify those claims with her office by looking at publicly accessible data. 

She noted this fact following efforts in November of 2021 by the same group to push not only hand-counting, but also voter ID requirements and the elimination of mail-in-voting for most residents.

Moyer explained that state statutes prohibit the county from requiring in-person voting, or mail-ballots, hence those issues’ absence from the resolution. 

As discussed in a November 2021 work session, state statutes also specify the Clerk and Recorder as the election official for the county. Town of Rangely Trustee Don Davidson argued in November, and again this week, that because commissioners have authority over the budget, they can simply choose not to pay for vote tabulation machines, a legal assessment RBC Attorney Don Steerman said he disagreed with.

 “It’s up to the governing body to say, ‘I want you to run the election, and you’ll salute smartly and do just that, because we are the governing body,’” said Davidson, who added that, “This is not a democracy, we elected you in a republican form of government to make a decision based upon the statutes,” in support of his claim that the decision does not require public input, and thus shouldn’t go to a public hearing.

Commissioner Ty Gates cast the dissenting vote Tuesday, noting first that he felt the move “could drive a deeper wedge” into a community already divided over other issues. He believes state statutes clearly specify that the BOCC “cannot tell another elected office what to do.” 

Commissioner Jeff Rector said, “We’re not trying to tell an elected official what they’re gonna do,” adding, “We’re going to change the appropriated budget process to hold that up,” referring to funding for Dominion vote counting machines.

Gates stated that he didn’t believe the machines were a budget issue, and expressed concerns about potential litigation against the county. Attorney Don Steerman explained “it would be difficult to sue” on this particular motion, since it’s just an “authorization to proceed.” Steerman added, however, that following a public hearing, the county could be sued if the board votes to go through with the final decision.

Other residents who expressed concerns about election integrity and spoke in favor of defunding Dominion machines Tuesday included Elaine Urie, Frank Huitt, Jeff Prystupa, Mona Avey and Rhonda Davidson.

Additional comments opposing the measure came from former Meeker Town Manager Sharon Day, and election judges Kristine Hicken and Melissa Dembowski, who described the existing process as “ironclad” and encouraged residents with concerns to familiarize themselves with the process, and even sign up as election judges themselves. 

County Clerk and Recorder Boots Campbell further emphasized that anyone seeking to understand the local election process could learn more by attending public processes like a logic and accuracy test, along with the risk-limiting audits. “We have pulled [for verification] over 600 ballots in the last three elections, and we’ve not had one discrepancy. This is all hand count compared to machines. So nobody has to worry about their vote not being counted,” said Campbell.

OTHER BUSINESS

In work sessions Tuesday the Board of Commissioners met with Emergency/Natural Resources Manager Eddie Smercina for an update. Smercina covered recent discussions about “major problems” with Sheriff Reservoir in the northeast corner of RBC, which holds water for the town of Oak Creek in Routt County. He also relayed a request for reimbursement from the Conservancy District, for work updating the Land Use Plan. The county allocated $2K for the work, but Smercina said work completed so far is “quite a bit over budget” coming in over $10K. Work to finalize the plan is still needed. Upon completion the board will consider additional funding reimbursement.

Commissioners interviewed Travis Day and Lee Overton for re-appointments to the planning commission. Moyer questioned both about their ability to recuse themselves in the event of a conflict of interest, citing recent recommendations from the commission about septic systems on lots less than one acre. Both were re-appointed for another term during the regular meeting.

Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District Manager Alden VandenBrink informed the board that he had conducted additional research on fertile soils in western RBC for growing new crops. He also highlighted recent streamflows, noting that CFS at Taylor Draw Dam is consistently ⅓ lower than last year, which he said was the lowest streamflow year on record. “I keep telling folks, we’re waiting for an impending water crisis, but I’m telling folks, we’re there. You are in that water crisis now.”

The board entered executive session following their regular meeting “for the purpose of receiving legal advice on specific legal questions” and negotiation, instructing negotiators etc.


By LUCAS TURNER | lucas@ht1885.com