Election ballots 1 (copy)

Election judges work to process ballots at the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder’s Office in 2019. Election judges are hired by the county temporarily to do many administrative tasks, such as picking up ballots from drop boxes, verifying signatures, and taking ballots out of envelopes.

Infighting in the El Paso County GOP bled into preparations for the upcoming November election, when the party chairwoman called for a handful of people to be removed from their posts as Republican election judges.

Chairwoman Vickie Tonkins told El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Chuck Broerman that several election judges "no longer represent the El Paso County Republican Party and my Administration" and asked for them to be removed in late September. The judges had no opportunity to plead their case or ask for reconsideration under the current rules, prompting a call for reform to create an appeals process. 

Under the current system, Broerman said he had no choice but to remove the election judges and party volunteers that had always "served with distinction." Election judges work in bipartisan teams for the Clerk and Recorder's Office in election seasons to verify signatures, take ballots out of envelops, determine a voters intent if it is not clear and other administrative roles. 

Tonkins didn't offer Broerman a clear reason for the judges' removal, he said. 

"It just seems very mean-spirited, capricious and punitive," Broerman said. 

One of the election judges, Candi Boyer, said Tonkins told her she would not be needed in order to give new volunteers an opportunity to serve. But Boyer said she was probably let go, in part, because of her volunteer work with Peak Republicans, a group set up to help Republicans get elected in the general election. The group was set up to fill a campaign void left by the party.

When asked for proof that Boyer was not loyal to the party, Tonkins sent a photo of Boyer volunteering with Peak Republicans. Boyer was one of five people Tonkins asked Broerman to remove. She had the authority to remove three of those people because they were on a list of election judges submitted to the Clerk and Recorder's Office by the party. 

Tonkins provided a blanket statement in response to multiple questions about why she thought it was necessary to remove judges and whether she thought an appeals system would be a good addition to the system. 

“Republican and Democrat Election Judges and Poll watchers are representatives of their respective parties. These people are approved by the Republican and Democrat county offices.”

However, the county parties generally cannot recruit enough judges, so the Clerk and Recorder's Office has to fill remaining positions, Broerman said. At the moment, the office is fully staffed, with more than 500 election judges, and is placing names of others on a waitlist in case of openings, Broerman said.

Boyer and the two other election judges were hired back to help with elections through this process. 

"I just feel so strongly about the voting process and being involved in it is critical," Boyer said.

Broerman said he has never had a party chairperson ask for election judges to be removed without a valid reason before. He said he supports the judges' call for an appeals process because under the current rules, a chairperson could ask for a handful of people working at a voter service center to be removed and effectively shut it down. Members of each party work together throughout the elections process to ensure fairness.

An appeals process could be set up through the bylaws of a political party or through state law. Boyer said she would like to see a panel review that could include the leaders of both county parties, the clerk and recorder and two citizens. 

The Secretary of State's Office did not respond to a request for comment about introducing an appeals process. 

Contact the writer at [email protected] or 719-429-9264.

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