DA investigation clears up Castle Pines election controversy

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CASTLE PINES, Colo. — After a metropolitan board election where 22 votes separated all four candidates and two of the candidates raised questions of its legitimacy, the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s office investigated the matter following a Denver7 investigation.

“I believe the election was absolutely not handled properly. Absolutely, I have no doubt about it,” said Cynthia Cerny, one of four candidates who ran for the Castle Pines Metropolitan District Board of Directors last May. She did not win a seat on the board.

“This comes down to what is the full story,” added Tad Walden, another candidate who ran and was elected to the board. “We need an honest disclosure of what took place. … We need to know the truth about those ballots.”

The two candidates demanded the truth about 33 mysterious ballots that an election watcher claimed showed up at the metro office on Election Day.

“There was a potential for it to be criminal,” former 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler said.

In the weeks following a Denver7 Investigates report in December, Brauchler, who was still in office, asked his team to investigate the accusations and questions of the two candidates. Cerny had her attorney send a letter to the board that claimed the election was tainted by “fraud.”

“It seemed like we needed to address this and address it relatively quickly,” Brauchler said.

Cerny and Walden’s questions surrounded a stack of ballots that mysteriously showed up at the district office on Election Day, the board’s decision to not publicly investigate the election results and the board’s decision to avoid answering questions raised by Denver7 and the two candidates.

“I think the concerns are, when there are unanswered questions about the origins of ballots, the validity of ballots, the process itself, there seems to be a lack of transparency,” Brauchler said.

Brauchler’s team of investigators began digging into the May election looking for answers to the concerns raised by the candidates. They interviewed metro district employees, reviewed security camera videos, canvassed ballot envelopes and election processes to determine whether the claim of the 33 ballots arriving with an unknown origin on Election Day was true and if it altered the results of the election.

“There are probably some improvements that could be made on the front end of the next election,” Brauchler said after talking with his investigative team and the conclusion of their review. “But what we discovered is there are no 33 ballots that are involved in this. That number we can’t even figure out where it came from, the real number is nine.”

Brauchler, who left the office in January due to term limits, says his investigators did not uncover any criminal activity, but did find troubling failures in the district’s election process, including not having security cameras in place to monitor the district’s ballot drop box. His team also confirmed the district had no way to confirm signatures on ballot envelopes and he also said the review discovered an overall lack of transparency to voters and residents in Castle Pines Village.

“The results were accurate,” Brauchler said. “The winners deserved to win, and the losers did not.”

However, he did provide recommendations for the board moving forward.

“In the future, I think they need to spend some time to figure out ‘how do we up our game?’ either in terms of transparency, other internal audits, a way to check ballots on the front end, a different way of doing business.”

Rich Huser, chairman of the Castle Pines Metro District, responded to Brauchler’s recommendations by saying that the former DA is entitled to his opinion and he believes the district got a fair result.

And earlier this week, the metro district made the decision that it would no longer count the votes in-house and will have the Douglas County clerk and recorder handle the election.

“We’re not going to be in that business anymore,” Huser said of counting ballots. “I want to see the elections outsourced to the county, to Douglas County going forward, so that way we don’t find ourselves sitting in front of a camera with you, no offense.”

The metro board unanimously voted to outsource future elections to Douglas County, a move that will likely produce significant cost savings for the district.

“I look at it as a victory for the entire community,” Cerny said after learning of the findings of the DA’s investigation and the action by the metro board. “I think everybody, every resident wins, based on your reporting and the DA’s investigation.”

The two candidates and the chair of the metro board say they are now ready to move forward after now understanding what went right and what went wrong a full eight months after the final ballot was counted.

“Without your investigation,” Walden added, “without the DA’s involvement I don’t think that we would know, there would always be a question of what took place.”

Denver7 Investigates asked board chair Huser if the board had learned a lesson regarding this and future elections.

“I don’t know about a lesson being learned,” said Huser. “But it’s been helpful for us to kind of move forward with our thinking of how elections ought to be handled out here. So, if you want to call it a lesson learned, that’s fine.”