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Voters cast their ballots at downtown Denver's Bannock Street polling location on Election Day, Nov. 5, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

More than 650 voters in Aurora — home to a neck-and-neck mayoral race — didn’t receive replacement ballots they had been mailed until late in the afternoon of Election Day, adding to concerns swirling around the heated contest to lead Colorado’s second largest city. 

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold on Friday evening blasted the U.S. Postal Service, saying they were both responsible for the delay and should have notified state elections officials about the hold up. She said that other replacement ballots sent to voters in Colorado did not have the same delay. 

“The idea that they realized that mail ballots had been sitting in Denver for five days, called in postal workers in an emergency on Tuesday in the afternoon to send them to voters and failed to notify us when we have regular notifications is not acceptable,” the Democrat said. “It’s just not acceptable.”

The Postal Service has refuted the timeline released by Griswold’s office and said it was disappointed by her “inaccurate” comments. They said the ballots were mailed by county elections officials — responsible for sending out the replacements —  in the lowest-cost, slowest way possible. 

“We are proud of the work our employees displayed through the election process,” the USPS said in a written statement.

In all 828 replacement ballots slated to go to voters in Denver and Arapahoe counties were not delivered until about 3 p.m. on Tuesday. Of those, 664 were for Aurora voters.

Of the batch of Aurora voters who received their replacement ballots late — sent because a voter recently moved, didn’t initially receive their ballot or had damaged their ballot — 141 of them found enough time to cast their ballot or voted in person at a polling center. 

That means that 523 of those people did not cast a vote. 

In the city’s mayoral race, former U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman had a 281 vote, or 0.4 percentage point, lead on Omar Montgomery, the former head of Aurora’s NAACP chapter, as of Friday at 5:30 p.m.

Griswold said that if the Postal Service had alerted elections officials to the fact that they were delivering ballots late, they could have petitioned a judge to keep polls open later and potentially notify the affected voters. But since the election has now ended, the people who didn’t vote have no way to have their voice heard in Colorado’s 2019 elections, which ended Tuesday at 7 p.m. 

That being said, given the results in the Aurora mayor’s race thus far and assuming they would continue to have broken down the same way, “it does not look like (the outcome) was affected,” she said. 

“But you would have to make various assumptions to get there,” Griswold said.

The replacement ballots were printed in Seattle and arrived in Denver for distribution on Nov. 1, the Friday before Election Day. Elections officials say they were supposed to have a tag on them notifying postal workers that the documents needed to be urgently distributed, but that it appears at some point that the tag fell off or was removed.

Griswold said she is now exploring options for legislative or regulatory changes to ensure the error isn’t repeated in the future. That might include requirements that the Postal Service notify state elections officials of any delays in delivering ballots, or mandates regarding the timeliness of vendors who print ballots.

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, speaks to reporters at her office on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

“In the future we are going to ask and demand from the United State Postal Service that they give us that information so that we can make good decisions for our voters,” said Judd Choate, Colorado’s elections director. 

Elections officials say they didn’t find out about the delayed ballots until Friday morning after postal workers relayed information about it to Democratic candidates running in Colorado’s 2020 U.S. Senate race.

“What I hate, what is so disappointing is to hear that someone may have had barriers to voting,” a visibly frustrated Griswold said. “We don’t want that in Colorado.”

It’s possible that candidates in the mayoral race, or other contests, affected by the replacement ballot issue could file a lawsuit challenging the results.

This is the second reported problem with ballots related to Aurora’s municipal elections. In October, the city clerk announced that 17,774 ballots were sent to voters instructing them to vote for a single at-large Aurora City Council candidate when they could vote for two. New ballots were sent to those voters, all of whom lived at Adams County addresses.

Jesse Paul

The Colorado Sun — Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is...