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Recount request in Boulder withdrawn by Republican candidate due to high cost

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Right around the time we reported yesterday about a recount request in Boulder, Ellyn Hilliard, the Republican House candidate who'd asked for one, decided she would not be going forward after all -- in part, because it would just be too expensive. The costs, she argues, are an explicit tactic to suppress citizen oversight and limit transparency.

This latest news means the ongoing election chaos in Boulder, the only county with a canvass board that refused to certify the results, may actually be coming to a close.

After the refusal to certify didn't cause much of a stir, election activists looked for another option: a recount.

With urging from Citizen Center, an election integrity advocacy group, and frustrated members of the Boulder canvass board, Hilliard, who lost to her Democratic opponent Jonathan Singer, agreed to request a recount. No one expected that the outcome might actually change, but supporters argued that the recount would be a way to hold election officials accountable for a process that some activists argue was filled with problems, including a lack of transparency, discrepancy in results and a poor signature verification process for mail ballots.

Boulder Clerk and Recorder Hillary Hall, a Democrat, has denied these accusations, arguing that she and her staff have gone above and beyond to run a smooth and transparent election.

As part of the request for a recount, the candidate must ask for an estimate from the Clerk and Recorder's office.

Hall's office sent back a lengthy document with calculations totaling $27,777 -- a cost that Hilliard, Citizen Center and some members of the canvass board see as outrageous.

It's a blatant suppression of citizen efforts to increase transparency, Hilliard says in a note to Secretary of State Scott Gessler and Suzanne Staiert announcing her withdrawal of the recount request. She writes:

After reviewing Clerk Hall's cost estimate of $27,777 for a 3 to 4 day recount of HD-11, and comparing it to the Douglas County HD-39 Republican primary recount cost of $800, and the Boulder Canvass Board estimate of $4,770, it is clear to me that Clerk Hall is attempting to prevent my access to a fairly conducted recount. I requested the recount with the understanding that the Secretary of State guidelines would be used to determine my cost, and as such, my obligation would be limited to out of pocket costs for temporary workers and supplies.

Although I recognize that Clerk Hall's estimates do not reflect your anticipated adjustments, I feel that the exercise is not going to be productive given the clear attempts by Clerk Hall to discourage the election transparency my supporters and I seek through a recount. Therefore I do not wish to waste your time and that of the canvass board in forcing a reasonable cost, only to potentially experience a hostile recount environment in the Clerk's office.

I hereby withdraw my recount request in the interest of finding more efficient and productive ways to seek transparency and verification of the 2012 Boulder County election. Thank you for your efforts and attention to my request. Thank you also for your recent trip to Boulder to listen to your constituents here and their concerns about Colorado's election integrity. There is nothing more important to our shared democratic values.

The last part of Hilliard's note refers to Gessler's election integrity listening tour last week, in which he solicited feedback from voters. In Boulder, much of the discussion concerned the clerk and recorder's office and the canvass board's concerns about the process.

Continue for more from Ellyn Hilliard and from the Boulder County Clerk's office. The Secretary of State's office agreed that the Boulder estimate seems unnecessarily high and tasked staffers with researching the matter to offer its own estimate. But they didn't get far enough before Hilliard decided to withdraw.

Molly Tayer, elections coordinator in the clerk and recorder's office, points out that the recount request from Hilliard came in Friday afternoon, the last day to call for a recount. She says her staff worked tirelessly over the weekend to come up with an estimate based on the Gessler's guidelines. The document outlining the calculations is on full view below.

"We didn't think it was inordinately high," she says. "We worked very hard on it."

Tayer points out that the $27,777 includes optional printing costs. As a result, the total could be closer to $19,000 if the candidate chose to review the results digitally.

"We did our research. We made sure that we included the overtime it would take to get the recount done in three days," she says, noting timeline requirements. "The bottom line is we didn't want to [do]...a recount and have it charged back to the taxpayers. We wanted to ensure the cost of this would be covered."

And in response to overall accusations, she adds, "Our office has done an amazing job of being open and transparent throughout the election.... We definitely took this very seriously."

Hilliard, who lost by more than 5,000 votes, says in an interview that she sees an increasing lack of confidence in elections and simply wanted to do a recount so that voters could feel better about the process.

"There's just so many funny, odd, irregular things that happened," she says. "It seems like the canvass board ought to have a little bit more access."

She says, "When I went to door to door, I had dozens of people who told me they weren't going to vote, because they don't have any confidence in the way votes are counted.... That's a concern. I don't care what party it is."

People, she adds, don't want to run for office when there's even an appearance of potential wrongdoing or error. "It makes it really hard to get candidates when they think the votes are getting manipulated."

Continue for the full recount estimates from Boulder. Recount Cost Estimate HD11.PDF

More from our Politics archive: "Videos: Marijuana activist says Fox31 fabricated stoned driving story"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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