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Just as the country moves into the 2020 election season, a western Colorado county has discovered nearly 600 uncounted ballots from the 2019 election, in one of the ballot boxes it set up to receive 2020 primary ballots.

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According to Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters, the missing ballots would not have changed the results of any of the 2019 elections, a reassurance that is small comfort to those wondering whether their votes were counted or not.

Peters said that 574 ballots were found Tuesday in a drop box outside the election office in Grand Junction by staffers who were picking up the first ballots returned for the March 3 presidential primary. She reported the incident to Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold.

According to Peters, it appears no ballots deposited after 5 p.m. on Nov. 5, 2019 were retrieved from the drop box. That box was not checked again until last Tuesday.

Griswold issued a statement which read: “As chief election officer for Mesa County, it is the Mesa County Clerk and Recorder’s responsibility to ensure that ballots are collected and processed in a timely and accurate fashion, in accordance with state law and rule. The failure to collect all ballots timely submitted for the 2019 coordinated election is unacceptable and must not recur.”

“This is a very serious offense and I wanted to let people know,” Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters told the local newspaper The Daily Sentinel.  The paper was the first to report on the discovery in Mesa County.

The 2019 ballots have yet to be opened. A spokesman for Griswold, Steve Hurlbert, said doing so would require a court order, so they will not be added to the official 2019 vote totals.

Griswold has responded to the incident by ordering an improvement plan for Peters’ office. This past weekend, she directed staff from the Secretary of State’s Office to travel to Grand Junction to provide oversight and guidance.

Here in Chaffee  County, County Clerk and Recorder Lori Mitchell said the county’s processes prevent something like that ever occurring.

“On election day, our staff and election judges check the ballot box in front of the county offices every hour on the hour. On election day we have a crew assigned to check at 7 p.m., empty the box and close it,” explained Mitchell. “We have election judges that travel to Buena Vista and they wait right at the ballot box. At 7 p.m. on election night they check it, they put the closed sign on it, and they bring all the boxes back to the county office for counting. Then at eight days after the election, before the election canvas starts, we make a sweep of all those boxes again.”