Hot Sheet

Cold, fog, sense of urgency accompany Douglas County voters to the polls

Author: Marianne Goodland - November 7, 2017 - Updated: November 7, 2017

A car in Douglas County on Election Day 2017. (Marianne Goodland, Colorado Politics)

PARKER — Mainstreet in Parker is busy with traffic this cold, foggy Tuesday Election Day in November. Kids out of school for the day are hanging out at the the McDonald’s just a block away.

No one is waving signs or honking horns for the candidates. There isn’t a political sign to be seen for miles. “There’s an election today?” asked one Mainstreet business owner.

A voter coming out of the Douglas County Department of Motor Vehicle office in Lone Tree, which is hosting one of four voter service centers in the county, denied there was any issue driving her to the polls. “I always vote,” she said.

A handful of students from nearby Ponderosa High School told Colorado Politics that they really haven’t taken much of an interest in the election, one that will decide the fate of the district’s controversial voucher program.

But the high school holds a special place when considering Tuesday’s election. Last year a 15-year old sophomore student, Grace Davis, organized a protest at the school to raise awareness about teacher turnover. But the March 9 protest caused more than just a ruckus outside the building: Two members of the Douglas County Board of Education board chair Meghann Silverthorn and vice-chair Judi Reynolds — held a private meeting with Davis several days before the protest to try to talk her out of it. Davis later accused Silverthorn and Reynolds of bullying and intimidation, backed by an audio recording of the 90-minute meeting, which was held without first notifying Davis’ parents.

An investigation conducted by an attorney with numerous ties to the biggest donor to the three board members’ campaigns cleared Silverthorn and Reynolds, stating that there was no school district policy on bullying by school board members. The district’s policy on bullying governs only student conduct.

Reynolds chose not to run for re-election to a second term this year; Silverthorn is term-limited.

Two other members of the board — Geddes and Steve Peck, who was appointed to his seat late last year, replacing Doug Benevento — also chose not to run.

There are still a few cars driving around the area with “Vote for” and a list of the candidates, depending on which slate the driver supports. The Elevate Douglas County slate backs school choice, though it insists it isn’t pro-voucher. The CommUNITY slate is anti-voucher. Should even one of their four candidates win Tuesday night, the win will change the board majority from pro- to anti-voucher. In short order, a new board would be expected to end the voucher program — and with it, the legal fight that has cost the district $1.8 million. The district has solicited donations to cover those legal costs, with the Daniels Fund and the Walton Family Foundation donating virtually all of the money for those legal bills.

By 5 p.m. the voting center at the Parker Town Hall had seen more than 90 voters walk in to cast ballots. According to George Laumeyer, election coordinator for Douglas County, that exceeds the totals from other voting centers in the county.

Voters in Parker indicated the school board election motivated them to get out to the polls despite worsening weather throughout the afternoon and into the evening. “This is about getting people on the school board who represent what the people want and who care about kids,” said Max, who came in with his 6-year old daughter, Clara.

“I am obligated [to vote] on many levels,” said a teacher at Parker’s North Star Academy who did not want to be identified.

“I always vote,” said Senthil, who did not give his last name and who has two children in high school.

But what matters for this election, he said, is the school budget, which should be directed toward academics and fine arts, and teacher salaries.

As of 6 p.m., close to 85,000 ballots had come in at the Douglas County Elections Division, out of 222,525 — about 38 percent. That’s only 3 percent less than the vote totals from 2015, according to county election results.

Laumeyer said he expects total ballots cast to exceed the 2015 total.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.