Denver City Councilman Paul Lopez

Then-Denver clerk and recorder candidate Paul López (right) greets guests at the Colorado Politics party at Ironworks in Denver on April 11. (Andy Colwell for Colorado Politics)

The razor-thin race for Denver clerk and recorder ended Thursday with Paul López being declared the winner after final official results showed he had edged out Margaret “Peg” Perl with just enough votes to avoid an automatic recount.

The Denver Election Division certified the results in which López, a term-limited Denver city councilman, outpolled Perl, a lawyer and ethics watchdog, by a margin of 397 votes.

That’s just under 0.55% of López’s vote total of 72,596. Under Colorado law, an automatic recount is triggered in an election if the vote spread between the first-and second-place candidates is not more than 0.5 percent of the leading candidate's vote total.

“I was relieved. I was happy,” López said of the outcome. He was on his way to taking his 12-year-old daughter to summer camp when he got the news in a call from the clerk’s office.

“She gave me a big old hug,” he said of his daughter, who tagged along during much of the campaign. “We were jumping up and down in the driveway."

Perl said she also called to congratulate López and did not plan on pursuing a recount at her own expense, as would be her right.

“Oh, no, the automatic recall is one thing, but I’m not going to do anything more,” she said. “I have overall much faith in the integrity of the elections division."

López and Perl were the top two vote-getters in a three-way race in the May 7 general election. But because neither candidate had more than 50% of the vote, they ran again in the June 4 runoff election.

After the runoff election, the gap between López and Perl stood at 315 votes, or 0.43505 percent of López's total, which would have been within the threshold to trigger an automatic recount.

But election law allows a grace period in which ballots that have discrepancies can be cured.

López and his campaign staff approached this period almost like a extension of the election campaign by going door-to-door to visit with those voters and try to help them repair their ballots.

For example, López said one man in north Denver had suffered a stroke and the signature on his ballot which he signed with his other hand no longer resembled the normal signature recorded on the election roll book.

At first, López said the man was so angry that his ballot had been rejected that he refused to sign the required campaign affidavit.

But after a personal visit from López and about an hour-long conversation about their shared roots in New Mexico, the man signed the affidavit, curing the ballot, López said.

“I told him if I see your name come up anytime, as clerk and recorder I’ll know exactly who this is,” López said.

Other cured ballots came from a blind woman and an autistic man as well several new citizens and young voters who were casting their first ballot.

López said the experience made him think that perhaps his office should do more outreach even after elections that were not so close to enable people to have their ballot counted.

Beside the cured ballots, the final certified results included mail-in ballots from overseas and military voters. The results did not change any of the outcomes from the June 4 election.

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