Jay Ledbetter v. Michael Dobersen: Testy Arapahoe coroner race ends in a dead heat

Update: As of Wednesday at 5 pm, Dobersen's margin of victory had dropped to under 300 votes. A mandatory recount is expected.

And you thought the Buck-Bennett race was a squeaker? It may be days before veteran Arapahoe County Coroner Michael Dobersen finds out if he's held onto his job, since he and challenger Jay Ledbetter are separated by less than half a percentage point in one of the most sharply contested coroner races in memory.

According to the latest figures posted on the county website, Dobersen leads Ledbetter by a mere 447 votes -- 74,098 to 73,651 -- with several thousand late-straggler ballots left to count.

Dobersen, a nationally known forensic pathologist, has been the county's coroner for seventeen years. But he recently changed his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat, prompting the GOP to field its own candidate in Ledbetter, an attorney. That led to some spirited debate about whether the coroner's function is primarily a legal or medical one, whether Dobersen was taking on too much outside work or Ledbetter had exaggerated his military record, and even a claim from Ledbetter that his opponent had "manipulated evidence" in a criminal case -- a claim Ledbetter later apologized for and retracted.

Just how much voters paid attention to these issues -- or simply went for the "D" or "R" designation in a county which, like much of the Front Range, seems to be suffering an identity crisis about its party affiliations -- isn't clear.

And the outcome isn't, either.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Caustic coroner at crux of cranky county term-limits crump."

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast