County Clerk Wayne Williams says that on the Election Day of June 26, it was pretty clear an evacuation of his vote-counting site was coming.
"Our election judges were working in masks," he says.
All around the Citizens Service Center on Garden of the Gods Road, smoke from the fire was becoming unbearable. At 4 p.m. that day the wind changed, and by 7 the word came: Everyone had 10 minutes to get out of the building.
The ensuing announcement — all vote-counting would be halted, with only preliminary numbers released — mercifully ended an eerie evening at primary-night parties around El Paso County. Many anxious and exhausted campaign volunteers and friends of candidates had sat silent as they watched homes burn on TV. County Commissioner and candidate Sallie Clark, who represents much of the fire area, didn't show up for her own party.
The next day, Williams and his staff drove across the evacuation line to collect the remaining uncounted ballots. Surprises were pretty much out of the question; in nearly every local race, from commissioner up to the U.S. House, hefty 20-point margins separated the candidates. Still, the election wouldn't be final until every ballot, sitting in a locked room under video surveillance, was transported to the southeast clerk's office and counted.
When the group walked back into the Citizens Service Center, stale smoke and air conditioning poured out, stinging eyes and halting breaths.