County Beat: Nov 16 meeting report

PUBLIC HEALTH UPDATE

Public Health staff workloads are “at the highest level we’ve seen” according to Director Alice Harvey, who updated the RBC Commissioners in Rangely this week. She said the department was spread thin between testing, vaccination clinics, answering phone calls, contact tracing and other pandemic-related work, in addition to offering their normal services. She said demand for testing has had residents in cars backed up to the highway on more than one day, and the department is receiving more than 100 calls per day.

“We have not had to turn anyone away for any of the services they’re needing, so that’s our number one goal,” said Harvey, noting that she could see “light at the end of the tunnel” thanks to a new hire.

A new full-time administrative assistant (funded via federal grants) will allow the public health department to offer more support for residents calling with questions about testing, among other things.

Responding to questions, Harvey also explained the process for determining which COVID-19 variants are spreading in a given area. She said the state health department (CDPHE) spot-tests samples regularly, extrapolating data from there. According to that data, the Delta variant is the dominant strain in RBC.

ELECTION PROPOSAL

Representing Restore America United (RAU), Rangely residents Susie Berardi, Elaine Urie and Rangely Trustee Don Davidson asked the board of commissioners to change local voting requirements. Proposed changes would require residents to vote in-person, with ID verification. Mail-in ballots would only be available for disabled people, deployed military service members and absentee voters. The group also proposed shifting to strictly hand-counting of all ballots, instead of using electronic verification systems to assist in the tabulation process.

Berardi also detailed a list of “justifications” for why she and others feel the county should change local voting procedures, most of which revolved around “irregularities” that have allegedly occurred in recent elections. As the primary example, Berardi claimed independent research shows RBC voter participation in 2020 exceeded voter registration numbers, stating “we have more people that were reported as voting than we have people registered to vote.”

RBC Clerk and Recorder Boots Campbell told the HT the group is claiming a 100.6% return on ballots in the 2020 election. According to Campbell, 2020 ballot returns were 85.6%. This year’s election ballot returns were 51.6%, which is about normal, if slightly higher than average when compared to the last 10-12 years of off-year elections.

Berardi cited “Rio Blanco County Demography Data” as the source of ballot numbers, and listed a variety of other discrepancies, like ballots getting sent twice to individuals, to deceased voters, and to people who had moved out of the county. Campbell also refuted these claims, noting that voter rolls are updated frequently to avoid sending ballots to non-voters, incorrect addresses, or otherwise. With that said, mistakes still occur from time to time. When describing how an incorrect ballot might go out, Campbell said, for example, “There is no way to know if someone moved out of state,” and so their name might not be removed from voter rolls prior to an election. If an incorrect ballot did go out, no one would be able to use it to vote due to the signature verification process.

Urie and Davidson also argued the legality of their proposal for commissioners, claiming that their own legal research “verified that the county commissioners decide the voting process; the county clerk implements the process at the direction of the county commissioners.”

RBC Attorney Don Steerman said he disagreed with the legal analysis, noting, “from what I can read, the designated election official is the Clerk and Recorder.” Though he said he’d look into the specific statute so as to advise the commissioners on the proposal.

By phone Tuesday after the meeting, RBC Clerk and Recorder Boots Campbell noted that like most counties in the U.S., Rio Blanco does use Dominion machines. Campbell noted that the machines also generate paper ballots, so voters can make sure the machine got their correct votes before they are counted. Campbell also said RAU members had not visited her office, added that all county records in her department are open to the public

Multiple analyses/studies and investigations looking for evidence of voter fraud over the past 20 years have found little to no evidence of any significant voter fraud. One study found a fraud incidence rate of 0.0003 percent on the low end and 0.0025 percent on the higher end. Of the billions of votes cast in federal elections alone during the past 20 years, the Heritage Foundation (which tracks voter fraud allegations) lists a total of approximately 1,300 known cases of fraud, or less than 0.00013 of all ballots cast.


By LUCAS TURNER | lucas@ht1885.com

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