Grand Lake has no mayor as court nullifies election
May 8, 2008
Grand Lake is a town without a mayor.
In a 14th Judicial District Court judgment Wednesday, Grand Lake’s mayoral office was vacated, meaning Glenn Harrington no longer holds the office.
“Two electors in the Grand Lake mayoral election were not allowed to vote,” District Judge Mary Hoak stated in her decision.
In closing statements, the judge commented that it’s regrettable when a tight election has to be untangled in a court of law.
“I don’t ever want to do this again,” she said.
The April 1 municipal election results reflected a two-vote margin of victory for Harrington over former Mayor Judy Burke.
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In light of the fact that two votes are now deemed invalid, the court found that “no person was duly elected to fill the position of mayor in Grand Lake.”
The case, in which a town petitioned the court to examine the legitimacy of its votes, thereby altering the outcome of an election, may be unprecedented in Colorado, according to the town’s attorney, who conducted research on the topic, said Town Clerk Ronda Kolinske.
On April 19, the town amended a petition filed in District Court to reflect three voters rather than the original six listed who were suspected of voting in the Grand Lake town election without having lived in the town for 30 days prior.
Two appeared before the judge while the third was not present due to not having been served court papers in time.
The first voter explained that she had lived in Grand Lake up until May 2007, at which time she moved out to a location in the county. She had misunderstood the rules and thought she could vote. She said in speaking to a town trustee who had informed her incorrectly, she thought she was eligible at the time of the election.
Since the first voter was found to have wrongly cast a ballot, it was left up to the second voter to keep the election validated.
But after hearing evidence and testimony, the judge declared that she didn’t believe the individual who “moves around a lot” had changed his official residency to Grand Lake from a primary home in the county, thus rendering his vote null and void as well.
Although the validity of his vote was in question, Hoak did not cite a deliberate attempt to sway the past election.
“I do not think (the voter) set out to defraud the voting system in Grand Lake,” Hoak said. “I think (the voter) thought he was entitled.”
“This is ridiculous,” the voter stated prior to Hoak’s decision. “I think I would have never voted if I thought this was going to happen.”
In response to the self-proclaimed “big proponent of voting,” Judge Hoak urged the citizen not to abandon his right, even though he’d “had the worst voting experience ever.”
“It means the world to vote,” she said. “Please reconsider, even with having gone through this.”
Grand Lake most likely will host a new mayoral election. At the next board meeting, the Grand Lake board has the option to schedule such an election.
“I think the outcome was very favorable to the voters of Grand Lake,” stated Burke after the decision, commenting that the integrity of the town was upheld.
“Everything that came out of this ensured a fair and adequate election. The people of Grand Lake have won.”
The former mayor, who served two decades on the town board, says she plans to run again.
And Harrington, who had been sworn in as mayor on April 14, simply said it’s time “to regroup and start the process over again.” Before becoming mayor, Harrington had served as a town trustee for one term.
“Some of the best things in life come only after a struggle,” he said, “and I think that this is one of them. My supporters and I are ready for the challenge, and we will begin immediately to build on the momentum of the April 1 election results.
“The congratulations that I received from being elected mayor the first time only reinforces my desire to continue to serve the residents of Grand Lake.”
In Hoak’s ruling, there was no indication of what legal action, if any, the ineligible voters could face for casting votes improperly.
While the vacancy exists, Mayor Pro-tem Aron Rhone will be serving in the mayoral capacity.
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