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Democratic challenger builds on lead over incumbent Republican in State Board of Education race

Democrat Rebecca McClellan, left, and  incumbent Republican Debora Scheffel.
Democrat Rebecca McClellan, left, and incumbent Republican Debora Scheffel.
Nicholas Garcia

Democratic challenger Rebecca McClellan padded her lead Monday over incumbent Republican Debora Scheffel as ballots continued to be counted in a pivotal race that will determine partisan control of the State Board of Education.

McClellan had a 1,125-vote lead over Scheffel after additional votes in Adams County trickled in. The Democrat took a 959-vote lead on Friday night after a large number of ballots were tallied in Arapahoe County.

The candidates are vying for the seat representing the political tossup 6th Congressional District, which includes a significant portion of Arapahoe County, and smaller portions of Adams and Douglas counties.

Thousands more ballots are outstanding in the three counties, including ballots that have not been counted because they have missing signatures or other issues, as well as provisional ballots.

As of now, the vote is not close enough to force an automatic recount under state law. For a recount to happen, the difference between the candidates must be less than or equal to one-half of 1 percent of the winner’s total vote count.

Scheffel led by a slim margin in early returns but McClellan had been gaining in more recent counts before taking the lead.

It is unclear how many votes remain uncounted. Not all ballots in the three counties include the State Board of Education race because some voters in those counties live in other congressional districts. For example, voters in Adams County could live in either the 4th, 6th or 7th congressional districts.

In Arapahoe County, the totals updated Friday include all the mail and in-person ballots the county has received, said Haley McKean, spokeswoman for the Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder’s Office. An additional 2,600 ballots have not been counted due to a missing signature, signature discrepancy, wrong envelope or missing identification, she said. On top of that, 455 provisional ballots still must be verified, and if a voter was eligible those ballots will be counted, too, McKean said.

About 3,000 ballots in Douglas County have not been counted because of irregularities. Those ballots have been set aside, and voters have until Wednesday to address the issues for their ballots to be counted, said Merlin Klotz, Douglas County’s clerk. The same timeframe applies to ballots in other counties not counted yet because of signature problems and other issues.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many ballots cast in Adams County might fit that description.

Of the three counties that are part of the congressional districts, Arapahoe County by far holds the most sway — and McClellan has built a lead there. As of the latest returns, McClellan led, 53 percent to 47 percent. Arapahoe County is fairly even mixed among Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters.

In the conservative stronghold of Douglas County, 45 percent of voters are registered as Republicans, 20 percent are registered as Democrats and 34 percent are either unaffiliated or registered with another party. Scheffel is leading McClellan there, 60 percent to 40 percent.

Adams County leans more Democratic. About 36 percent of voters are registered Democrats, 26 percent are registered Republicans and about 38 percent of voters are unaffiliated or registered with another party. However, Scheffel is leading in the most recent returns in the county.

The closeness of the State Board of Education contest stands in stark contrast to the outcome of the race pitting incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, a Republican, and Democratic challenger Morgan Carroll, a state legislator — with the very same electorate. Coffman easily prevailed, winning 51 percent of votes counted to Carroll’s nearly 43 percent.

McClellan is winning considerably more votes in her race than Carroll is in hers — more than 19,000 more votes, according to recent returns.

Money is one likely factor in the closer race for the State Board of Education seat representing the district. McClellan’s campaign brought in more money than Scheffel’s in the primary and general election, but McClellan also had opposition in the Democratic primary.

McClellan also benefited from campaign cash from outside groups. A political committee connected to the nonprofit Democrats for Education Reform spent more than $150,000 from Aug. 1 through the end of October to support McClellan’s bid. Such groups may raise and spend an unlimited amount of money but cannot coordinate with candidates.

The outcome of the Scheffel-McClellan contest will determine partisan control of the State Board of Education at a critical time, as Colorado joins the rest of the country in seeing through the nation’s new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act. A shift to Democratic control would be significant; the board has been in Republican hands for years.

LATEST VOTE TOTALS

McClellan (D): 178,296 — 50.16 percent

Scheffel (R): 177,171 — 49.84 percent

Difference between votes cast: 1,125

One-half of 1 percent of highest votes cast (figure needed to trigger recount): 891

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