UPDATED — Greeley City Council will hold off swearing in the at-large seats until the full election process completes, which could be as long as December.
Mayor, Ward I and Ward IV winners will be sworn in at the council’s next regular meeting, Nov. 12. However, the final at-large spot is still to close to call, separated by only 25 votes with possibly more than 400 ballots still needing to be counted. Greeley realtor and political newcomer leads incumbent Stacy Suniga in the race.
More than 75 Greeley ballots were not counted because of signature problems. Weld Clerk and Recorder Carly Koppes sent those voters a letter giving them until Nov. 13 to correct the mistake. Another 325 ballots sent under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act will not be counted until Wednesday.
GREELEY — A city council seat too close to call may not be declared for several more weeks.
Seven candidates competed for two at-large seats on the Greeley City Council in the Nov. 5 election, one a four-year term and the other two years. As of 5 p.m. on Wednesday, the two-year seat was still undecided, with only 25 votes separating incumbent Stacy Suniga and Greeley Realtor Kristin Zasada, who is currently in the lead.
The four-year seat was won by former Greeley Mayor Ed Clark, who previously served one term from 2007-2009.
According to Weld County Clerk Carly Koppes there are several factors that will play into the official decision. Overseas and military voters who postmarked their ballots by election day and are in the office by Nov. 13 will be counted on Nov. 13. Ballots that were dropped of by the 7 p.m. deadline Tuesday in other counties are making their way back to the office and will be counted as well.
Koppes was getting those numbers for Complete Colorado at press time.
Additionally, Koppes sent to Complete Colorado a list of nearly 300 names of Weld County residents whose ballots were not counted because of errors such as missing signatures or signature discrepancies. That list included 78 Greeley voters.
The clerk has sent letters to those voters, giving them until Nov. 13 to correct — or cure — the mistakes or they will not be counted. Both campaigns were also given copies of the list, which includes addresses, political parties and contact information. The campaigns have the option to contact those voters themselves and ask them to correct the error.
The Suniga campaign has said they have a committee of people who will begin the daunting task of curing those ballots.
“After discussion, the Suniga camp has decided to engage in the curing process to make sure that Greeley residents who casted their votes are heard,” Deb Suniga said. “We will let the democratic process play out. We are proud of the race that we ran. It was a grassroots effort by everyone who participated in our campaign. Regardless of how this turns out, we respect Kristin for the campaign she ran.”
Zasada told Complete Colorado she is not going to attempt to cure the votes.
“My plan is to sit tight and let our voting officials handle it from here,” Zasada said. “I’m grateful and honored for everyone’s support and want to congratulate Stacy on her well-run campaign. She was a formidable opponent.”
Although the race is supposed to be non-partisan, Suniga is a registered Democrat and Zasada a Republican. Of the 78 names on the list, 30 are Republicans, 21 are Democrats, 25 are Unaffiliated and 2 are other parties.
Koppes said once the election is certified, which could be as late as the last week of November, if the margin of difference remains within one-half of one percent, it will trigger an automatic recount. She would then meet with the candidates and the City of Greeley — which would be responsible for the cost that could reach as much as $10,000, she said.
“The only way the city could not have to pay for that is if the candidate behind at that time, chooses to voluntarily withdraw from the race,” Koppes said.
Mayor John Gates said he has reached out to the city’s attorney to find out how to proceed with the swearing in newly elected representatives until the at-large race is official.
Gates was re-elected to a second term, another candidate Dale Hall, was re-elected to his city council seat in Ward 4 and Tommy Butler was elected to serve in Ward 1.
“They promised me an answer (by Friday),” Gates said. “I asked whether we should seat anyone, or who can be sworn in and who maybe won’t be.”
Gates said he would prefer not to swear someone in, only to have to remove them later and swear in someone different. In 2017, Gates swore in the assumed winner of the at-large race, only to have a judge throw out all the votes for that person. Suniga was then appointed to the seat as she had the second most votes in that election.
“The meeting will still go forward,” Gates said about the forthcoming council meeting on Tuesday. “In spite of the delay being distasteful, it’s the way the process works, and we need to sit back and let that process work.”
Editor’s Note: The reporter, Sherrie Peif, is a personal friend of Suniga and a Greeley resident and voter. As there were two at-large seats open, Peif not only publicly endorsed and supported Suniga, she also publicly endorsed and supported Zasada. Both women hung their banners side-by-side on the fence of Peif’s home.