UPDATE, DEC. 7: In a Dec. 6 email to Colorado Politics, Don Bendell stated that he was handed a laptop with his name on it during freshman orientation at the Capitol. He cooperated with IT department employees regarding the laptop's return, he said, even scheduling an appointment at his house on Dec. 1 with an IT staffer, who picked up the laptop. Prior to the appointment, he had offered to ship the laptop back, he said. "I did absolutely nothing wrong," Bendell stated in the email, in which he also claims that he never received an email that Colorado Politics sent requesting comment ahead of this story's publication Nov. 30.
Just when you thought the election was over, think again.
One last race is apparently not quite resolved, despite a winner being certified: House District 47, which covers Otero, rural Pueblo and Fremont counties.
The contestants were Republican Don Bendell of Florence and Democrat Bri Buentello of Pueblo, who was certified as the winner on Wednesday.
Republicans in Pueblo County are crying foul over how the Democratic clerk and recorder, Gil Ortiz, handled the ballot counting after election night, and they're considering either a court-ordered recount or possibly a recount through the Secretary of State's Office. The deadline for requesting a recount is Monday.
On election night, Bendell held a thin lead over Buentello. That lead evaporated over the next three days, and by Nov. 9, Buentello held a lead large enough to move outside the margin for an automatic recount.
She won the race by 321 votes out of more than 32,000 cast. A mandatory recount would take place if the margin was 0.5 percent or less for the votes cast for the winning candidate, which, for HD 47, would be roughly 82 votes.
Pueblo GOP Chair Marla Reichert told Colorado Politics Friday that the day after the election, her party's election watchers were on the job, observing the final counting of ballots. At the end of the day, they asked when they should return, and they were told they didn't have to.
On Nov. 8 and 9, ballots that turned the tide in favor of Buentello turned up, according to Reichert.
The Pueblo GOP filed a request under the Colorado Open Records Act the following Tuesday, seeking, among other things, a copy of the video showing how the ballots were counted. As of Friday, that video had yet to be provided. Reichert said that Ortiz's office initially responded by stating they would have to figure out the costs for the request, and eventually came up with a figure of $3,100.
Reichert said she paid for the request on Nov. 26, and that day, at least a portion of the request was denied. On Friday, the party received four of the seven items requested, but not the video. According to Reichert, the video from Nov. 9 was offered for free, so there shouldn't have been a delay in preparing it, especially given that the county party had paid for it.
"Clerk Ortiz told us about a 'new' video system that would allow people to log in and view videos, so they wouldn't have to put it on drives for people, yet they are still withholding access," she said.
Reichert also pointed out that Ortiz appeared in a mailer on Buentello's behalf during the campaign and that the elections supervisor quit "during this whole fiasco."
Ortiz told Colorado Politics that the video in question is more than a terrabyte in size and that his IT department is still working on making a copy. He also shared an email sent to Reichert Friday about the "free" video, which stated the county has yet to develop a policy for access so that's not yet available.
But the story doesn't end there.
On Nov. 9, newly elected lawmakers came to the Capitol for the first phase of freshmen orientation. Bendell and Buentello, as well as other candidates who were awaiting final declarations in their races, also participated; some cast provisional ballots for leadership that would be on hold until a winner had been declared.
Those who were declared winners in their races got the (apparently) highly prized lawmaker laptops. Those who hadn't been declared had to wait.
But as to the laptop, Bendell decided not to wait. He reportedly convinced someone in the legislature's IT department to hand over the laptop that was intended for the winner of the HD 47 race.
Bendell, who lives in Florence, still had the laptop as of Friday.
On Thursday, Chief Clerk of the House Marilyn Eddins became involved. Bendell quickly agreed to return the laptop, but the IT department decided a road trip was in order.
Sometime between Friday and Monday, when the next phase of freshmen orientation takes place, the IT department employees were to head to Florence to retrieve it.
The need for haste is because freshman lawmakers' first bills are due to the legal eagles in Legislative Legal Services on Dec. 10 giving whoever represents HD 47 just a week to get those bill requests ready. The laptop contains information that will help those lawmakers with that process.