When five slow-growth advocates decided to take on town hall in Erie's April 4 election, they had grand plans for establishing a new order in this old mining community, where particle-board homes have been popping up as quickly as prairie dogs in an open field. But the result is not what they had hoped for.
Two members of the group Appropriate Growth Regulations Enhancing Erie (AGREE) were elected to the town board of trustees, and at first it appeared that a third member, Reed Schrichte, had been elected mayor. But a recount held three days after the election showed that Schrichte actually lost by two votes. His opponent, Thomas Van Lone, was sworn in as Erie's new mayor, but Schrichte is challenging the recount in Boulder District Court.
The error occurred on election day, when more than twenty ballots weren't tallied because voters had marked them incorrectly and the computer system couldn't discern the votes. Six election judges recounted them by hand and were able to determine what the voters meant. But Schrichte is convinced that the judges interpreted the ballots in his opponent's favor. On one ballot in particular, he says, a voter made a mark between his name and Van Lone's; had the judges decided it was too unclear to call, the race would have been tied and another vote would have to have been held.
Schrichte's only recourse now is to take it to court; the town of Erie is required by state law to conduct only one recount. But the burden of proof rests with Schrichte. "Now I have this huge monkey on my back," he says. "I have to prove that they screwed up and that their screwup affected the outcome of the election."
He's confident that he has a strong case, however. "The fact that they didn't count those ballots on Tuesday [April 4] is my proof. There's only one reason not to count ballots, and that's because they're defective."
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Although town officials deny any shenanigans, Schrichte thinks the recount went against him because his plans for Erie run counter to the old-guard town board, whose members welcomed development. He ran for mayor saying that he was tired of watching town officials plan for more car-dependent subdivisions, and he proposed that if Erie has to grow, it should grow wisely, with well-planned, high-density housing near restaurants and shops that people could walk to ("The Erie Insurgency," February 17).
Schrichte may still be able to impact Erie's future, however. After a couple of annexations came before the town council -- including 950 acres for the proposed 2,500-resident Vista Ridge subdivision that has yet to be voted on -- Schrichte drafted an initiative that would allow annexation by public vote only. On May 23, a special election will be held to determine whether Erie residents will get to vote each time an annexation comes up.
But he says the recent "quagmire" has left a cloud over Erie town politics. "I've run in elections before and lost," says Schrichte, who ran for mayor in 1995 and for trustee in 1994 and 1998. "I'm comfortable with losing fair and square, but to play by the rules and win and then have them turn it around is troubling."