Nine days after voters cast their ballots, final vote counts show that Democrats Gwen Lachelt and Julie Westendorff won the two contested seats on the three-person La Plata County Board of County Commissioners.
Vote tallies show Lachelt beat Republican incumbent Kellie Hotter by 174 votes and Westendorff beat Republican Harry Baxstrom by 320 votes.
The vote spread in both races is greater than the number that would require a recount.
Lachelt received 14,095 votes or 50.3 percent of the votes, compared with Hotter’s 13,921 votes or 49.7 percent.
Westendorff received 14,098 votes to the 13,778 Baxstrom received – a split of 50.6 percent to 49.4 percent.
The new results include counts of provisional ballots, mail-in ballots that had signature issues and military ballots. The latter two couldn’t be counted until Wednesday.
The results still are unofficial until they get the final sign-off Tuesday by the canvass board, a committee composed of the county clerk and recorder and representatives appointed by the major parties. But La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Lee Parker said she doesn’t anticipate any issues.
A county commissioner race hasn’t been this close in 20 years, Parker said.
“I guess you could say we have a pretty equally divided county,” she said.
The newest counts provide a firm resolution to the race, Westendorff said.
“In my mind, it says, ‘OK, time to get to work,’” she said.
With her win cemented, Lachelt thanked voters and the many volunteers who helped her campaign.
“I feel great about the fact that we ran a strong campaign,” she said. “We knocked on thousands of doors, and I believe the people responded to that.”
Throughout her campaign, Lachelt emphasized that she faced an uphill battle. The District 2 seat hasn’t been held by a Democrat since 1993. Republican Shirley Baty won the seat in 1992 and was re-elected in 1996. She stepped down midway through her second term and the local Republican Party appointed Bob Lieb Sr.
Lieb followed a similar path, winning the District 2 race in 2000 and 2004 before he stepped down in 2005. The party appointed Hotter in his place and she went on to win the 2008 election by a margin of 58 percent to 42 percent.
“A lot of people were absolutely shocked that the seat had been passed down from Republican to Republican for almost two decades,” Lachelt said.
Reflecting on the tightness of the race, Lachelt said she would be taking a “measured approach” moving forward in her new position.
Westendorff indicated the county’s comprehensive plan might fare better after she and Lachelt take their seats.
“Gwen and I both favor bringing back discussion of the comprehensive plan,” she said.
Westendorff said there are other issues she plans to tackle before the comprehensive plan, though, such as a new intergovernmental agreement between the city and the county, lease negotiations for a federal courtroom and land-use code revisions.
Lieb welcomed the two new commissioners to the dais.
“This is yet another new chapter in the life and times of La Plata County and the county commissioners,” he said.
He added, “My most important desire with this outcome is that both new commissioners will respect the work and initiatives we’ve been working on, that they see value in them and continue to shepherd them on to completion.”
Hotter said she will leave the commission with continued concerns about Lachelt’s nonprofit background.
“I have grave concerns about our economic health going forward and about this new board of county commissioners growing government and not focusing on our core mandates,” she said.
She said she will take the next six months to figure out her next step.
“I have a lot more leadership to provide. I just have to decide how best to plug it in,” she said
The new commissioners will be sworn in Jan. 8.