Denver City Councilman Paul López took a narrow lead in unofficial returns in the three-way race for Denver clerk and recorder in the election that ended Tuesday. But the race was headed to a June 4 runoff since no candidate was in striking distance of a 50% majority.

Three candidates faced off to succeed Debra Johnson as Denver clerk and recorder. The office oversees areas ranging from marriage licenses to foreclosures to elections. Johnson decided not to run for another term.

Vying to succeed her are:

• López, a term-limited city councilman who has worked as a labor and community organizer.

• Sarah O. McCarthy, the former executive director of Metro Denver Habitat for Humanity, who ran unsuccessfully against Johnson in 2011.

• Margaret “Peg” Perl, a lawyer who served as policy counsel at the Federal Elections Commission and as senior counsel for Colorado Ethics Watch.

Unofficial results at 1 a.m. Wednesday showed the three candidates within a few percentage points of each other, with López about 3 points ahead of each of his rivals.

Much of the race focused on the candidates’ varied approaches to making access to voting easier for the public. They also discussed how to improve turnout among communities where voting has not been robust in the past.

López wants the clerk’s office to create a program where employees go door-to-door to get people to register to vote.

“We have a huge disparity in this city in terms of where people vote and where they don’t,” López said at a Denver Decides candidate forum on March 28.

Perl has said she is also concerned about the level of turnout in municipal elections which traditionally has averaged about 30 percent, compared to a 75 percent turnout in last fall’s elections.

“I think it’s worth looking at whether the timing or the structure of elections has an impact on that,” she said.

McCarthy has said that she does not see boosting turnout as part of the clerk and recorder’s responsibilities. She did agree, however, that more could be done with the placement of voter boxes and voting centers to make elections more accessible.

“The ease of voting should be equitable across the city, across the neighborhoods,” she said. “And one of the things I would look at is mapping where are the drop off boxes.”

All three candidates praised Johnson’s handling of the clerk’s office. But all three see where improvements could be made to the clerk’s website.

Lopez would like to see more documents, such as city contracts, be made available online.

Perl and McCarthy both said they would like to organize the data bases the clerk’s office maintains to make it easier for residents to find information in one place.

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