Municipal polling cast into doubt — Moffat County County Clerk’s office has no one certified to conduct elections
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comments from the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, Moffat County commissioners, and Moffat County Clerk and Recorder Tammy Raschke.
CRAIG — The Moffat County Clerk and Recorder’s office will likely not be able to conduct Craig’s April 2 municipal election due to a lack of training, a development that has left city officials scrambling to contract election services.
In an email sent Jan. 16 to Craig City Clerk Liz White, Moffat County Clerk and Recorder Tammy Raschke wrote:
"As discussed in our phone conversation today, the County Clerk and Recorders Office will be unable to conduct the city election. We have not had the training to access the SCORE System as required by the Secretary of State's Office. We will not have the training completed in time to meet your deadlines. We apologize for the great inconvenience and look forward to assisting you in the future. If you have any questions regarding these issues, please feel free to contact me at my office."
According to Craig Mayor John Ponikvar, only three officials in the county clerk and recorder's office were trained to conduct municipal elections: former Clerk and Recorder Lila Herod, who left office earlier this month, and former Elections Coordinator Tori Pingley and former Deputy Election Clerk Amanda Tomlinson, both of whom resigned earlier this month.
Ponikvar said he was meeting Monday with Craig City Manager Peter Brixius, City Attorney Sherman Romney, and White to discuss options for contracting services to carry out the municipal election.
"This has never happened before," Ponikvar said. "We've always contracted with the county to do our elections."
Despite this historical precedent, however, the county is not statutorily required to conduct municipal elections.
“It's a partnership,” Commissioner Ray Beck said moments after the Moffat County Board of County Commissioners meeting ended Tuesday morning. “We have all the equipment and everything to do it, and they don't.”
“We're not statutorily required to do that,” Commissioner Don Cook added.
Moffat’s commissioners said they have no control over the city’s April 2 election.
“The county will have absolutely nothing to do with it,” Cook said.
Beck pointed out commissioners also have limited control over the county clerk, who historically worked with the city of Craig to administer city elections.
“County commissioners here don't have jurisdiction or oversight over other elected officials, other than we control their budget,” Beck said of the county clerk position. “We have say on their budget and the hiring or replacement of personnel.”
“We don't get into the weeds of how she manages her office,” Beck said of Raschke.
Reached by telephone on Monday, Romney said the city is currently exploring its options under the Municipal Election Code, set forth in Title 31 of Colorado state law.
He noted that some other municipalities around the state conduct their own elections, so there is precedent.
"We have a city clerk, who's our election official, and we will probably use contractual services," Romney said. "We have a couple of options on who we might contract with."
He said the issue is likely to be added to the city council's agenda for its Tuesday meeting, and while he added he doesn't think the complication will interfere with election deadlines, it may necessitate the need for in-person voting and hand-counting of ballots.
"We should know a lot more after Tuesday's meeting," Romney said.
Reached Tuesday by telephone, Serena Woods, communications director for the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, and Judd Choate, state election director, provided some clarity.
Choate said Raschke is a certified election official, but added that conducting municipal elections requires additional specialized training neither Raschke nor her staff have undergone. He added he is working with Raschke to expedite the training and to identify certified personnel who may be contracted for the upcoming Craig election.
Woods agreed, saying Craig and Moffat County can count on support from the state.
“We’re going to do everything we can to expedite training and make sure she (Raschke) has access to other people who have the knowledge to get this election back on track,” Woods said.
Raschke, in a brief telephone interview Tuesday, said both she and Debbie Winder — whose promotion serving as Raschke’s chief deputy was approved on Tuesday by the BOCC — are currently undergoing specialized election training that will enable them to conduct future municipal elections.
However, Raschke wasn’t sure if she and Winder would complete the training in time to conduct the April 2 election.
“At this point, we just don’t know,” she said.