Ritter victorious, voters struggle
By Mike McPhee, Denver Post Staff Writer
November 8, 2006
Democrat Bill Ritter has been elected Colorado's next governor, ending an eight-year Republican rule. With early returns coming in, Ritter scored heavily in the Republican bastions of Jefferson, Arapahoe and Larimer counties, all of which voted for President Bush two years ago.
In the 5th CD centered in El Paso County, Republican Doug Lamborn had a 20-percentage-point lead over Democrat Jay Fawcett with roughly half of the votes counted. Lamborn goes to Congress to fill the seat of Republican Joel Hefley, who served 10 terms before retiring this year.
Democrat John Salazar was re-elected over Republican Scott Tipton in the expansive 3rd Congressional District which covers the western and southern part of the state.
A heated campaign in the 4th Congressional District between incumbent Republican Marilyn Musgrave and Democrat challenger Angie Paccione was too close to call as of midnight.
As expected, Democrat Mark Udall was easily re-elected in the 2nd Congressional District centered in Boulder County, as was incumbent Democrat Diana DeGette in the 1st Congressional District based in Denver. Republican Tom Tancredo easily won re-election over Democrat Bill Winter in the heavily Republican 6th Congressional District centered in Jefferson and Arapahoe counties.
Amendment 43, which defines marriage as only between a man and a woman, passed late in the night. Colorado joined more than two dozen other states in amending its constitution to define marriage. Another issue, Referendum I, which would give same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples, was failing at midnight.
Amendment 40, which would have retroactively placed term limits on all Colorado appellate judges, failed early, as did Amendment 38, which would have expanded the ability of citizens to put initiatives on the ballot. Amendment 44, which would have legalized small amounts of marijuana, went up in smoke with roughly 63 percent of voters opposed to it.
John Suthers was elected as Attorney General, a post he was appointed to fill when Ken Salazar was elected to the U.S. Senate two years ago. Democrat Chris Romer was elected to the state senate from District 32.
As of midnight, the races for the secretary of state and state treasurer were too close to call. Also too close to call was Amendment 42 which would raise the state's minimum wage.
Ritter campaigned hard across the state, focusing not just on Democrats, which are heavily outnumbered by Republicans, but also on the state's nearly 1 million independent voters.
Technical problems plagued Denver's voters throughout the day, where some of the city's 55 voting centers reported waits of more than two hours as polls closed at 7
As the polls closed on schedule at 7 p.m., election officials at 8th Avenue and Corona Street passed out voter cards to 400 people standing in line, assuring all of them they would get to vote tonight. The Tattered Cover Bookstore in Lodo reported 275 voters waiting in line at 7 p.m.
Mayor John Hickenlooper said he was angry. "It's one of the most frustrating days, if not the most frustrating, I've had since becoming mayor. I want a thorough explanation of why these things were not anticipated."
Voters said buses pulled up to the Convention Center, which had a two-hour wait late in the evening, and took nearly 100 voters to the La Alma voting center at West 11th Avenue and Federal Boulevard, where the wait was about 30 minutes.
Anna Navarro, who rode the bus, said she voted at 7:50, and walked outside where the bus was still waiting to take the voters back. She asked the driver who paid for the bus. "He said he couldn't tell me but said it was one of the gubernatorial candidates," she said.
It was Ritter, whose campaign realized how important the heavily Democratic vote of Denver was to his election. Staffers hired a fleet of 20 vans and two 56-passenger buses to transport voters to less crowded polls in order to enable them to vote before the 7 p.m. deadline.
Secretary of State Gigi Dennis announced as the polls closed that voter turnout in Colorado was "very high."
In another early return, embattled Federal Heights Mayor Dale Sparks, facing criminal charges for his involvement with a strip club, fought off a recall challenge, as did Councilwoman Joyce Thomas, who supported Sparks.
Meanwhile, Denver election officials admitted this afternoon that the city's new computerized electronic balloting system was overwhelmed almost from the start of voting this morning.
Denver Election Commission spokesman Alton Dillard II said the system's "e poll book" laptop computerswhich were used to verify each voterwere bogged down early in the day, forcing election judges to manually call other election officials by telephone to certify the voters. The system became so bogged down by 1 p.m. that election officials were forced to shut down the computers and reboot them, Dillard said.
Around the same time, officials put out an urgent call to all city employees with election experience to come down and be sworn in as additional election judges on an emergency basis. A total of 100 additional judges had been sworn in by 3 p.m. and deployed to some of the city's 55 voting centers.
The election commission also located additional laptop computers, which it shipped out to the 10 slowest voting centers, including the Washington Park Rec Center, Botanic Gardens, Cherry Creek Community Church, Corona Presbyterian Church, Cook Park Rec Center, Tattered Cover Bookstore in Lodo, New Hope Baptist Church, the Wellington Webb city office building , Harvard Gulch Rec Center and Calvary Baptist Church.
As election officials scrambled to speed up the voting process, Denver District Court Judge Sheila Rappaport denied a emergency request from the Democratic Party to keep Denver's voting centers open for an additional two hours this evening due to the faulty computers.
Across the country, eight states kept their polls open additional hours because of computer glitches.
Attorney Mark Grueskin, representing the Democrats, had asked the court to extend the voting hours to 9 p.m., because voters were becoming disenfranchised by computers crashing and abnormally long lines at the polls.
But attorney Richard Westfall, representing the Republicans, countered that there had been no evidence that voters couldn't go elsewhere to vote or return to the same poll at a later time.
Rappaport told lawyers for both parties she didn't have the authority to keep the polls open, citing case law from the states of Missouri and Arkansas.
Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., who waited outside the courtroom for a ruling, said she was very upset about Denver's polling process. "The computers have been up and down all day," she said. "This is a nightmare throughout the city."
Secretary of State Gigi Dennis responded to the court's ruling by saying, "I'm pleased with the judge's ruling. The law concerning polling hours is very clear and it would be a disservice to treat voters across the state differently."
Douglas County election officials reported serious delays in several voting centers. One center, the Grange in the Meadows, was forced to close for one hour to deal with technical problems. Party officials there decided against going to court after hearing of Judge Rappaport's ruling.
Officials at Manual High School said their computers had crashed three times today.
At lunch time, Denver voters waiting in line at the Botanic Gardens vote center were urged to go to Manual's site because the wait at the Gardens might be at least another hour.
When Kim Smith, one of the relocated voters, arrived at Manual, she found a long line that crawled for at least an hour just to get to the school's front door. Once inside, she was told by election officials they were shutting the system down in order to reboot.
When officials tried to form two lines out of the one stalled line, people started yelling because it put some voters ahead of others who had waited longer, said Smith, who lives in Washington Park. Police were called to calm the voters down.
Vaishali Patel, who lives in Denver s Capitol Hill neighborhood, arrived at her voting center near East Eight Avenue and Downing Street after 11 a.m. and was told the wait would be two hours. She was urged to go to the Botanic Gardens site.
There, officials told her the wait also would be two hours and she was urged to go the Manual.
Like Smith, she arrived at the Denver school a little before noon and endured nearly two hours of lines moving in fits and starts before she reached the voting booth.
Ritter waited an hour and a half to vote at the Washington Park Recreational Center Tuesday morning. When he arrived at about 7:45 a.m., there were more than 150 people in line ahead of him. Several people said they were frustrated by the long lines. Paul Barsa, a 35-year-old who said he works in accounting, said he was "grouchy" and wished that he waited until the afternoon to vote.
Ritter said, "I hope that people will be patient. It's important for them to vote."
Lines of up to 300 people formed at some Denver polling places.
"This is positively ridiculous," said 82-year-old Jack McCroskey, clutching his cane while waiting at the Washington Park polling place in southeast Denver. "At 82, I don't deserve to have to stand out here. What if it had been 10 degrees today?"
Johnson Recreation Center at 4809 Race St. in Denver reported all its voting machines were down at 1:15 p.m.. "I'm just waiting on my IT man to call me back," said Nathan Martinez, the center's election supervisor. Service was restored by 1:45 p.m. During that time his line grew from just a handful to over a hundred.