[dropcap]B[/dropcap]allots from last-minute voters in Adams County will determine the fate of at least one incumbent Democrat in the Colorado Senate and two in the House, leaving the structure of next session’s General Assembly still up in the air.
With the gubernatorial race settled, political junkies filled Wednesday’s rumor mill with speculation on which races would flip which way, which party will hold the majority in which chamber of the legislature and by how much.
By late Wednesday, Republicans had an unofficial 18-17 lead in Senate seats and Democrats a tentative 33-32 advantage in the House. Adams County planned to wrap up its count on Thursday, leaving two House races and one Senate race still too close to call.
Democrats breathed a sigh of relief Wednesday night when Rep. Daniel Kagan eked out a win in HD-3. “Thanks to Daniel Kagan the Colorado House will stay with the Ds,” former House Speaker Terrance Carroll tweeted.
There will be recounts. There may be surprises among ballots that need to be examined by election judges or sent back to voters to verify their identity or double-check a signature.
An unknown number of military and overseas ballots are winging their way to places like El Paso County, where they could sway at least one House race.
And candidates were coping, as numbers firmed up, little by little.
On Wednesday afternoon, there were “still a lot of ballots left to count” in Arapahoe County, said Megan Tyler, campaign manager for Kagan. “We’ve been consistently closing the gap, so we’re feeling pretty good.”
Tyler’s optimism paid off. After trailing for almost 24 hours, Kagan took a razor-thin, 90-vote lead over construction manager Candice Benge in results posted at 5 p.m., flipping the current House tally from an R to a D lead. Arapahoe County posted its final unofficial tally, including about 25,000 ballots processed Monday, said county clerk spokeswoman Haley McKean.
Rep. Su Ryden, the Democratic incumbent in HD-36, clinched a victory against Republican challenger Richard Bowman, 51 percent to 49 percent.
Adams County election workers had 25,000 ballots to count when they started fresh Wednesday, and knocked off for the day after counting more than half of them, county communications director Jim Siedlecki said.
Three incumbent Democrats still trail their Republican challengers in Adams County, including former state Rep. Judy Solano in SD-24, who trails Republican challenger Beth Martinez Humenik by about 1,100 votes. Rep. Jenise May was behind opponent JoAnn Windholz by about 450 votes in HD-30.
In HD-31, incumbent Rep. Joseph Salazar was closing the gap with Republican challenger Carol Beckler, whose lead narrowed Wednesday night to 126 votes.
A small number of ballots with a write-in vote for county surveyor are among the “last few thousand” that will have to be hand-verified by election judges, along with ballots received with damage or voter intent that’s unclear, Siedlecki said.
“They might have a coffee stain” or be marked unclearly, he said.
Jefferson County election workers counted into the night for a second night in a row, processing the last 14,000 ballots, according to Jeffco spokeswoman Carolyn Carver.
In Jeffco’s most closely watched races, Democrat incumbent Sen. Cheri Jahn (SD-20) widened her lead against Republican challenger Larry Queen to 196 votes. Sen. Andy Kerr (SD-22) defeated Republican Tony Sanchez.
Sen. Jeanne Nicholson (SD-16) appeared to have lost to Republican Tim Neville 52 percent to 48 percent, while Sen. Rachel Zenzinger (SD-19) was behind challenger Laura Woods by about 1,000 votes, 48 percent to 46 percent.
In SD-5, an open seat on the Western Slope, Democrat Kerry Donovan defeated Republican Don Suppes by 1,063 votes. In HD-59, Republican challenger J. Paul Brown was leading incumbent Rep. Mike McLachlan.
But in the tightest races, the end result may come down to military and out-of-state ballots, plus “signature and ID cures” – ballots put aside to verify a voter’s identity before it can be counted. Counties have until Nov. 6 to notify these voters by letter that their signatures are missing or don’t match what’s on file. Voters who respond by Nov. 12 with proof of their signature will have their ballots counted, according to Colorado law.
It’s not known how many identification issues may lurk inside the envelopes dropped off Monday and Tuesday. “We certainly saw a large number of last-minute ballots,” said Adams County’s Siedlecki.
All ballots in El Paso County have been tallied except for military and overseas ballots – a major factor in the Pikes Peak region. “We don’t know how many of those are on their way,” county spokesman Ryan Parsell said.
In El Paso County’s HD-17, incumbent Democratic Rep. Tony Exum trails Republican challenger Kit Roupe by less than 300 votes. In addition to military and overseas ballots, about 120 ballots in HD-17 have been set aside for signature or ID verification, Parsell said.