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Pueblo County Clerk and Recorder’s Office accused of mishandling election ballots

PUEBLO, Colo. (KRDO) -- Pueblo County Clerk and Recorder Gilbert "Bo" Ortiz addressed recent accusations from former Clerk and Recorder employees alleging the mishandling of election ballots since he took office.

A Pueblo citizen tells KRDO he's spoken to several former employees who claim Ortiz and his team mishandled mail-in ballots by not properly storing and handing them once received.

"People are reaching out to me wanting to share their story and I am willing to share their story, so I am just seeking the truth. This has nothing to do with party affiliation," said Luke Wodiuk.

Ortiz said the "hearsay" claims were from a "disgruntled ex-employee" who is a part of a "politically motivated smear campaign."

Thursday, Ortiz addressed the Pueblo County Board of County Commissioners during public comment on what he calls "the allegations of wrongdoing when it comes to the mishandling of mail-in ballots."

Ortiz explained that mail-in ballots are received at their PO box and then a county employee takes two opposite affiliated election judges to retrieve the ballots and return them to the election department.

However, Wodiuk claims he's been told by multiple current employees who say mail-in voter ballots have turned up in the motor vehicle department after they are retrieved from the Postal Service.

Ortiz says those were blank ballots with voters' names or party affiliation.

"It is not our procedure, nor do we store ballots in the motor vehicle department or anywhere else that is not secure and under 24-hour video surveillance," Ortiz said during the public comment. "Both me and my elections department staff are more than willing to attest to that fact."

Pueblo County Commissioner Chris Wiseman asked Clerk Ortiz if the Secretary of State's office audits the process that they use to handle ballots.

"The process is under scrutiny at all steps, correct?" Wiseman asked.

"We have to follow rules and laws and the Secretary of State's Office sends people down and audits us. They pay attention to everything," Ortiz said.

Wiseman remarked that there were no issues with the 2020 or 2021 elections, unlike an election in Mesa County.

"There were not. In 2020 and 2021, we had very smooth elections and in 2020 we put ballot images on our website, and so people can audit the election any way they want to," Ortiz said.

While recent elections may not have experienced issues, previous elections have.

According to documents obtained by KRDO, there have been five election integrity complaints filed against Clerk Ortiz since 2012. The complaints ranged from lack of election judge identification to problems with the direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines to voter intimidation by Clerk Ortiz himself.

Four complaints have been dismissed by the Secretary of State's Office. However, in one complaint filed in 2013 by Victor Head, the Secretary of State's Office admitted that votes were mishandled during the Senate District 3 Recall Election.

Via CORA Request

The complaint alleges that election judges, appointed by Ortiz, inspected voted ballots before feeding the ballots into the optical scan machines.

The Secretary of State's Office observers "saw this occurring and stepped in to prevent it from continuing," the complaint response reads. "Our office will work with Clerk Ortiz to ensure adequate election judge training."

KRDO reached out to Ortiz for comment regarding this complaint. Ortiz said his office was only given 30 days' notice to find election judges and train them before the recall election, and because of that errors may have been introduced.

He added no election is always perfect.

Below is Clerk Gilbert Ortiz's full comments to the County Commissioner's Thursday:

"This is a response to the allegations of wrongdoing when it comes to the handling of mail ballots. This hearsay from a disgruntled former employee is part of a politically motivated smear campaign. I am happy to set the record straight when it comes to our ballot handling procedures. I must note, however, that I find it interesting that those who are happy to make these accusations have not spoken with, nor visited our Election Department, where they could find out how Pueblo County actually handles ballots.

First, let me outline the county procedure when it comes to receiving ballots which have been returned by mail. The majority of these ballots arrive at our PO Box, at which point the post office notifies the Election department they need these ballots picked up. A county staff member then takes two opposite affiliation election judges to collect these ballots from the PO Box, and transfer them to the Election department, where the envelopes are counted and recorded by date, amount received, and where they have been received from. I have provided a copy of the log so you can see how the ballots are recorded upon arrival. 

Occasionally, mail ballots are delivered to the courthouse by the letter carriers. These ballots are handled in the same way all official correspondence is handled. It is picked up by Election department staff, who transport the mail back to the Election department, and record it on the same log I have provided you. 

It is noted in the Colorado Revised Statutes, Title 1, 1-7.5-107 (b)(I)(A) that ballots may be returned to the office of the county clerk and recorder. My office is here in the courthouse. 

It is not in our procedures, nor do we, store ballots in the Motor vehicle department, or anywhere else that is not secure and under 24-hour video surveillance. Both myself, and my elections department staff are more than willing to attest to that fact. We do not take these slanderous accusations lightly, and again, find it highly suspicious that none of the people whom are actually entrusted with the safekeeping of the ballots, my elections staff, were approached or asked about what ballot protocols are. 

I would also like to highlight an excellent program which all voters in the state of Colorado are automatically enrolled in, called BallotTrax. As ballots move through the postal system, voters are notified via text or email, allowing them to see exactly when their ballot arrives at the Election department and is counted. Anyone who is not signed up for this program, or would like to check on their ballot status, is welcome to contact the Election department directly in order to ensure their ballot has been received. This program is an excellent tool to reassure voters that their ballot has arrived safely to be counted. 

Again, I would like to encourage anyone with questions about ballot security or election procedures to contact the Election department, take a tour of the facility, and see how the system really works. Rather than listen to unsubstantiated rumor, come see what the facts are."

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Sean Rice

Sean is reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about him here.


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