Mike Coffman held a slim 273-vote lead over Omar Montgomery in the Aurora mayoral race after election officials finished tabulating thousands of ballots on Thursday, but neither candidate was ready to say the election had concluded.
A spokesman for Coffman's campaign said the former five-term congressman had no plans to declare victory while votes remained uncounted.
"We are waiting for every vote to be counted in Aurora," Montgomery, a former president of the Aurora branch of the NAACP, told Colorado Politics. "We owe that to our community and city."
Both candidates' campaigns said they plan to contact hundreds of voters whose ballots were rejected because of signature problems and encourage those voters to "cure" their ballots before next Wednesday's deadline, potentially shifting the advantage.
Coffman saw his comfortable 8 percentage point election night lead dwindle on Wednesday and Thursday as the Arapahoe County clerk tallied a flood of late-arriving ballots. The Adams County clerk posted the totals from more than 1,000 Aurora ballots Thursday afternoon, further narrowing the gap between the two leading candidates.
According to the unofficial count posted late Thursday, with 73,122 votes cast in the five-way race, Coffman led with 35.83% to Montgomery's 35.46%.
Ryan Frazier, a former councilman, finished in third place with 16.7%, followed by Councilwoman Marsha Berzins' 10.73% and former Councilwoman Renie Peterson at 1.81%.
While the municipal election is officially nonpartisan, Democrats threw their support behind Montgomery, and Republicans lined up behind Coffman, who held office for 30 years as a state legislator, state treasurer, secretary of state and member of Congress before losing his bid for a sixth term last year to Democrat Jason Crow.
Chasing curable ballots can be a risky proposition — particularly in a nonpartisan race — since campaigns have to guess how any particular voter voted, but it's a safe bet Coffman's campaign will be encouraging Republicans to fix their ballots, and Montgomery's team will be targeting Democrats.
According to county voter records, Arapahoe County rejected 576 ballots cast by Aurora voters due to signatures that were missing or didn't match the images on file — 232 from unaffiliated voters, 216 from Democrats, 121 from Republicans and seven from minor parties.
In Adams County, the clerk rejected 44 ballots from Aurora voters for signature problems, including 18 Democrats, 17 unaffiliated voters, six Republicans and two Libertarians. Totals for Douglas County, the third county that includes parts of Aurora, weren't immediately available.
Ballot cures swung the 2016 election for the 6th Congressional District's representative on the State Board of Education, when a frenzied effort by Democrats helped challenger Rebecca McClellan overcome incumbent Republican Debora Scheffel's initial lead. A similar effort in June pushed Paul Lopez's initial, narrow margin out of automatic recount territory in a runoff for the office of Denver clerk and recorder.
Under Colorado law, an automatic recount is triggered when the margin between the two top finishers is 0.5% or less of the leading candidate's vote total. In the Aurora mayor's race, the difference between Coffman and Montgomery's totals would have to shrink to 131 or fewer votes to trigger a recount at this point.
Coffman's campaign manager Bill Ray told Colorado Politics Thursday that the campaign's post-election operation was being overseen by GOP attorney Scott Gessler, who succeeded Coffman for one term as secretary of state, Colorado's top election official.
County officials are also awaiting the return of a handful of ballots from military and overseas voters, whose ballots must arrive by close of business Wednesday in order to be counted. An unknown but likely limited number of provisional ballots could also be reviewed by officials before the count is considered final.