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Scott Gessler touts smooth voting in Colorado, predicts Mitt Romney will take state

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This afternoon, we stopped by the office of Secretary of State Scott Gessler to get a status report on the elections, and he tells us they are going well -- and much better than some other swing states. He also dismissed news that he's facing both criminal and ethics investigations for allegedly misusing state funds. He's remaining focused on the elections, which in Colorado, he says, appear to be heading in the direction of a Mitt Romney win.

Gessler, a Republican, and the state's chief election officer, has come under fire for both his efforts to prevent fraud and remove illegal voters from the rolls and, more recently, his alleged use of public dollars for GOP-related travels separate from his official state business.

About the latter, he says, "A thorough review on this whole thing will be good," adding that he is confident he did not break any laws.

Gessler, who has also faced some negative press around glitches in registrations, says that today's vote is running very smoothly.

The biggest problems, he says, are long lines at a single voting center in Aurora, which we reported on earlier today.

"You never want long lines. On the other hand, if you look in the context of the broader election, we've had one polling place in the entire state, where it seems as though we've had reported problems with that," he says. "Now, you compare that to what they're experiencing in Ohio or Pennsylvania or Florida or Nevada or problems in Philadelphia...[this is] a pretty damn good election."

With regard to the long lines, he says, "We've had one of our best people on the ground there helping sort things out."

Part of the problem, he says, is that people are showing up with mail ballots and then asking to vote at the polls, which could be leading to the bottleneck. He says he is not sure why this is happening. "Someone asks for a mail ballot, they get their mail ballot, and then they show up at the polling place and they want a provisional ballot instead. So that's not really something you anticipate, and that's in part slowed things down."

Provisional voting is necessary for those who get a mail-in-ballot and then decide they want to actually cast their vote at the polls, so that there's no duplication.

"My hope is, if someone asks for the mail ballot, they'll use the mail ballot," he says.

Another problem: Arapahoe County has 414 different so-called "ballot styles," he says, referring to all the different local races and associated ballots these voting centers must accommodate, given that Arapahoe's centers can be used by voters across the county and aren't specific to precincts. "Working their way through the 414.... That's the bottleneck.

He adds, "The most people are waiting is two hours, and that's not good...but they're able to vote.... CentrePoint is operating with Department of Motor Vehicle-like efficiency."

Still, he says, "Colorado is operating far, far more efficiently than what we've had in other states."

Continue for more from our interview with Scott Gessler. On reports that some machines were counting Romney votes for Obama, Gessler says his team visited those sites and determined that the devices are working properly.

"We couldn't reproduce the problem, spent a fair amount of time there," he says, adding that officials from the canvass boards were satisfied with the results and that he is confident they are functioning smoothly. "We subject them to a rigorous amount of scrutiny."

As of this afternoon, Gessler says it's clear that the race is very close in Colorado, as expected, but that the GOP maintains a lead in turnout -- which the party has had since the early voting period.

The latest turnout statistics, sent just after 5:30 p.m. from the Secretary of State's office show that 677,473 Democrats have voted, compared to 719,597 Republicans. And 588,430 unaffiliated voters have also shown up to the polls.

"Obviously, it's going to depend on how the independents break. But right now if independents are even 50-50, then the Democrats have a bit of a hole they have to fill," he says, noting that this assumes voters are casting ballots for the candidates in their parties with equal intensity. "If anything, some of the stuff I've seen shows that maybe two, three percentage points of Democrats are peeling off and voting Republican instead."

With 1.9 million cast, and assuming the unaffiliated split evenly -- which, he notes, is a big assumption -- the Democrats do have a notable hole to fill, he says.

As of this writing, just over two million votes have been cast, with 42,124 more Republicans than Democrats showing up.

He expects 2.6 to 2.7 million voters to turn out, given that there are 400,000 more registered voters this year than in 2008. He also says it is highly unlikely there will be a statewide recount, but that it is probable there will be a recount for a legislative race.

The chief elections officer position is a nonpartisan one, but outside of the Secretary of State's office, Gessler is an active Republican and a Mitt Romney supporter.

At the end of our interview, he says that he may go to a GOP watch party tonight, but will monitor progress in his office first and ensure everything is running smoothly.

And how is he personally feeling about the election?

"Look, my view is that we're at a crossroads here in this country...and the last four years have been a very brutal four years," he says. "And the things that have been tried by the federal government have consistently failed.... I think it's unfortunate that when people propose solutions that will not even balance our budget, but balance our budget in fifteen years, they're sort of demonized.

"But my view is this," he continues. "We have a choice: We're either gonna fix our problems soon and it's gonna be painful, but we'll able to get through, or we're going to at least, I think under this administration, continue to kick the can down the road, and we're gonna fix our problems later and it's gonna be very, very painful."

More from our Politics archive: "Federico Pena, Obama surrogate, defends Abound Solar, federal loans"

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

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