We’re kind of surprised by what seems to be a pushback attempt on the principal story from this week’s election in Pueblo County. On Election Day, Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert Ortiz put out a statement showing that, based on preliminary returns as of the night before, “inactive–failed to vote” voters who received ballots in the mail were returning their ballots at a higher rate than the Secretary of State’s often-quoted 3% statewide average. According to Ortiz’s release on Tuesday afternoon, some 2,640 “inactive” voters had returned their ballots.
It turns out, as the Colorado Independent’s John Tomasic reports:
“A press release issued October 31 by this office contained a mistake in the reporting of the Inactive Failed to Vote tabulations,” Ortiz wrote in a release. “The correct number of IFTV was 1791, which is 10.9 percent turnout, and still above the statewide average.”
…Regardless of the mistake in the Pueblo Clerk’s office, tallies from the secretary of state’s office demonstrate that inactive voters played a major role in this week’s election, accounting for roughly 5.5 percent of the total votes cast in the state.
“I can say that mailing ballots to inactive voters is the right thing for Pueblo County,” Ortiz said. “We’re used to it here. People expect their ballots and I want to keep that consistent.”
So obviously, there’s a lesson here that you should always double and triple-check all of your math before you send out a press release. But the correct result is still more than three times the 2009 estimate of ballots returned by these voters of 3%–and that’s the number Secretary of State Scott Gessler used to justify his lawsuit to prevent delivery of these ballots, isn’t it?
We wouldn’t be quite so animated about this, but today’s story in the Pueblo Chieftain reads like an over-the-top New York Post exposé on a embezzling councilman. They make it sound like Ortiz totally failed because of this small error, when in fact his office dramatically outperformed the benchmarks that were used to criticize his decision to send the ballots.
Richard Coolidge, a spokesman for Gessler, said the state office wouldn’t have double-checked the Pueblo County voting claims Wednesday except that Ortiz was touting an unusually high response…
Ortiz denied that he inflated the number of ballots from inactive voters for political reasons.
…[W]hen Gessler and Ortiz argue over voter numbers, they are looking at the same state database…[t]hat’s why Gessler was so quick to call Ortiz on his inflated vote totals for inactive voters.
The problem for the author, Peter Roper, is that a 10% response rate from “inactive” voters is “an unusually high response.” But you’d never get that from reading Roper’s story! All he wants to talk about is Ortiz’s “inflated” initial estimate based on unofficial pre-election counts. It’s a classic case of ignoring the real story to focus on what doesn’t matter.
We noted the Pueblo Chieftain’s openly hostile editorial a couple of weeks ago, pretty much blaming “inactive” voters for their status like Marie Antoinette blamed the French peasantry for being hungry. So, you know, maybe this meanspirited hit piece from Roper makes a kind of editorial sense. But it’s not often we see the story gotten this far off track without it being intentional, and we don’t think that’s how the record should go down for Clerk Ortiz.