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Scott Gessler: Boulder clerk protesting election non-certification sang a different tune in 2004

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We reported last week that the canvass board in Boulder County, responsible for certifying the results of the election, decided against it, arguing that there were serious flaws in the process. Hillary Hall, Boulder's clerk and recorder, was not pleased. But when we asked Secretary of State Scott Gessler about the situation, he pointed out that Hall was a canvass board member in 2004, when she voted against certification.

In this year's election, which Gessler has said was generally very successful, especially relative to debacles in other states, Boulder is the only county not to certify the results. When a majority of the canvass board -- which is made up of representatives from the major parties in each county, along with the clerk -- chooses not to certify the results, it must outline its reasoning for the Secretary of State's office, which then has to review the case and make a final call.

Hall voted in favor of certifying the election, along with the two Democratic Party members. (The two GOP reps and the two American Constitution Party reps voted against it). Hall told us she is very confident in the results and is certain that this lack of certification will ultimately have no impact on the outcome.

After Gessler spoke at a campaign finance panel last week, we asked him for his take on the situation in Boulder. He told us there was an interesting back-story behind the non-certification.

"In 2004, there was a big controversy about certification," he said. "And there were five people on the canvass board then -- the clerk and recorder, two Republicans and two Democrats. One Republican and one Democrat refused to certify, so it was a 3-2 vote to certify that election...in Boulder.... The one person who was very supportive of certifying the election was an elections attorney named Scott Gessler, who was a member of the canvass board. One of the people who voted against it was a party member on the Democratic side named Hillary Hall. She voted against certification."

While that race was two presidential cycles ago, it's noteworthy given that Hall, who subsequently became a clerk and recorder, has been critical of the current canvass board members in Boulder for refusing to certify the results. She told us that from her perspective, it seems they had no intention of ever certifying the results and are trying to make a political statement about mail-in ballots.

The 2004 case is also interesting considering that Gessler, a Republican, clashed with Hall, who was at that time the Boulder Democratic Party chair, over the results in a county that is making headlines for the same reason this year.

While Gessler and Hall clearly disagreed about the process then, this time around, it is much more likely that they will agree on the validity of the results.

Continue for response from Hillary Hall and more from Gessler on the process going forward. A spokesman for Gessler tells us that the Secretary of State's office, which is now reviewing the results in Boulder, has to make a final decision by December 6.

At this point, without the canvass board certification, the results in Boulder technically remain "unofficial," though it is unlikely the numbers will change.

"I don't entirely remember," Gessler said, when asked why Hall voted against certification back in 2004.

This time around, the canvass board members refused to certify due to a wide range of concerns, including accusations of improper signature verification procedures, discrepancies in the number of ballots counted by precinct and more. Hall said she has offered a wealth of data showing that each of the claims of her opposing canvass board members is false.

In our interview last week, Gessler didn't go so far as to say that his office will definitely certify the Boulder results. But he pointed out that he has the authority to certify. "My deputies spent a lot of time up there, so we've been paying very close attention to this. It's not something that's sort of new for us.... We've been monitoring this, talking to the clerk and recorder and talking to the canvass board very frequently."

He added, "I feel very comfortable that we will make a good, well-informed decision.... My view is, this stuff happens. You work your way through it. There are mistakes made in elections.... No one is absolutely perfect and there's controversies, so we'll deal with it. I'm not worried about being able to deal with it."

Asked about the 2004 race and why she voted against certification then, Hall recalled that the canvass board decided that two of them would vote against as a statement that changes were needed.

"It was more to draw attention that we needed to be better with the canvass boards," she said.

Hall explained that she didn't intend for the results to go uncertified back in 2004, since she knew her "no" vote wouldn't impact the final outcome. Rather, she wanted to highlight flaws with the canvass board process on the whole.

"How do you bring in people that don't do this every day and help them understand how the pieces fit together?" Hall asked, noting that, at the time, there were concerns with how the canvass board, made up of appointees from the various parties, was receiving information during the process.

While she can't remember the specifics of her gripes at the time, she said that her background there in part motivated her to consider the clerk and recorder position that she has today.

"It's from that experience that I get what a canvass board needs," she said.

And having been through the process and eventually stepping up to the clerk and recorder position in the same county, Hall said she has made a lot of improvements -- which is why, she said, it has been especially frustrating that the canvass board in 2012 is refusing certification.

"We put so much effort into it. I truly believe we give more time and attention [to the canvass board] than any other county," said Hall. "And I do think it's important."

Hall said that her office has reviewed relevant processes with the canvass board members, showing them how signature verification and early voting works, for example. She said that her team gave the board data files at three separate times along the way, going beyond what is required and providing insight into a wide range of components of the election. (The opposing board members told us last week that they feel Hall and her office have not provided enough information for them to feel confident).

She learned a lot from 2004, she said. "It...makes me work hard to present the information that we do.... We go out of our way to give more information than most counties do."

More from our Politics archive: "Amendment 64: If it's a disaster, other states won't move to legalize pot, says GOP's Ryan Call"

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

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