A three-months-long investigation has found evidence of voter fraud in Montezuma’s April municipal election, the 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office announced this week.
The office said it found probable cause to file charges against five voters for violating a Colorado statute that requires local residency in order to register and vote in a municipal election.
As a result of the investigation, District Attorney Bruce Brown believes the five voters in question were not permanent residents of the town of Montezuma, or Summit County, when they registered to vote in the weeks preceding the election. The DA has determined that the voters are residents of Front Range counties, with most owning second homes in Montezuma.
The five voters in question are Lenora Bohren, David LaRivee, Joan Marquardt, William Parton and Lisabeth Warshafsky, Brown said.
The DA has issued letters to the five voters informing them of his findings and has extended them an opportunity to comply with the law through deferred prosecution.
“Even small-town elections are a big deal,” Brown said in a news release. “We will continue to monitor that each vote deserving to be counted is given its full weight undiluted by those of nonresidents. However, it appears that these nonresident voters’ purpose was not to corrupt the electoral process, but to voice themselves in an election of concern to them personally.”
A deferred prosecution is a little-used legal mechanism that enables suspects of a crime to remedy the situation to avoid formal prosecution, the release stated. In agreeing to a deferred prosecution, guilt is not admitted and the matter is delayed to give the potential defendant time to correct his or her action.
In this case, the district attorney will monitor the voters agreeing to deferred prosecution for one year, requiring that they correct their voting locale to that of their primary residence. Should any of the five voters fail to correct the voting locale within the next year, the DA can file misdemeanor charges.
The five voters have been given until July 30 to enter the agreement. If signed, the agreement will not be filed in court, but instead will remain on file with the district attorney’s office.
FIVE VOTES, five voices
Lenora Bohren said Tuesday she does not think she and her husband, William Parton, have done anything wrong. However, she said she plans to do what’s necessary to bring herself into compliance with Colorado law.
Bohren and Parton, professors at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, have owned property in Montezuma since 1986, Bohren said. They also own a house in Larimer County outside of Loveland. However, they consider Montezuma their hometown community.
Bohren argued residency comes down to a matter of interpretation, saying she and her husband think residency is defined by where someone wants to belong, not where they live due to professional obligations.
“We don’t live in Loveland, so we can’t participate in local elections, but we don’t really consider this (Larimer County) to be our home community,” Bohren said. “We’ve been involved in the Montezuma community for years and years and years, and we think as property owners we should be able to vote on local issues.”
Marianne LaRivee said her husband, David, was out of town when he received his letter from the district attorney. The LaRivees don’t interpret the letter as a promise of prosecution, but rather as a guideline to bring David LaRivee into compliance with state law.
According to the letter, Marianne said David’s residency was called into question because his driver’s license shows an outdated El Paso County address. The letter outlines steps David can take to bring his residency into compliance. One of those steps is acquiring a new license showing that his permanent residency is in Summit County, which she said David plans to do in the coming weeks.
Like Bohren and Parton, David and Marianne LaRivee are educators, working at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs, respectively.
The LaRivees own a home in Monument, but like Bohren and Parton, they consider Montezuma their hometown community.
“There were concerns about the election up there and David was asked by two friends if he could vote in election,” Marianne LaRivee said. “We looked at the voter requirements and being property owners we thought he could. We just wanted to do what was right for our Summit County neighbors.”
The two other voters cited in the investigation, Lisabeth Warshafsky and Joan Marquardt, could not be reached for comment.
The DA’s decision to offer a deferred prosecution, or to file charges, does not have any bearing on the election’s outcome. It is still unclear how the investigation will affect the election, which is still pending certification by town clerk Helen Moorman.
Moorman, who officiated her first election in April, was out of town Tuesday, but said she has requested direction about proper protocols and would make a determination about the election next week.
The controversy surrounding the Montezuma municipal election started before voters went to the polls on April 1. In the days leading up to the election, several residents, including newly elected Mayor Lesley Davis, alleged as many as 17 registered voters were second-home owners.
Colorado law allows candidates, or election judges at a candidate’s request, to challenge a voter’s residency at the polls.
A week after the election, local residents filed petitions challenging the residency of 14 of those 17 voters. Two candidates, board incumbents Grimm and John Carney, were among the 14 voters who had their permanent residency challenged.
The district attorney’s office did not find probable cause to issue Grimm or Carney deferred prosecution letters.
“We looked at the voter requirements and being property owners we thought he could. We just wanted to do what was right for our Summit County neighbors.”
Montezuma property owner