On Thursday afternoon, Mike Coffman declared victory in the close race to become Aurora’s mayor, nine days after the election. The former Republican congressman was narrowly leading his closest opponent, Omar Montgomery—the president of the NAACP Aurora Colorado chapter and director of educational opportunity programs at the University of Colorado Denver—by 215 votes, when the final unofficial count was released Thursday evening.
The election itself won’t be certified until November 26, but Coffman said in a press conference on Thursday afternoon that there were only about 40 ballots in Arapahoe County that had yet to be counted, not enough to sway the results to Montgomery.
“I want to first congratulate my opponents on a hard-fought race, in which ideas for Aurora’s future were front and center,” Coffman said in a statement. “The city of Aurora has been my hometown for the past 55 years, and I’m honored to receive a vote of confidence, by one of the most diverse cities in America, to be their next mayor and to help shape its future—a future focused on solving our transportation challenges, creating jobs, and reducing the crime rate to make Aurora one of the safest cities in America.”
The election came at a critical time for Aurora, as the city’s identity is being redefined. As Natasha Gardner reported for 5280 in May, Aurora’s growth is changing everything from art to business in Colorado’s third-largest city. Huge expansion is expected around the Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center and the Denver International Airport in the future. Aurora’s diverse and immigrant communities are also facing hurdles, as a lack of affordable housing and inadequate public transportation continue to be a problem for the area. Aurora lost its longtime Mayor Steve Hogan to cancer last year, setting the stage for this new era.
This race saw five candidates on the ballot, but Montgomery and Coffman quickly emerged as the top contenders. The election itself was riddled with issues, which is part of the reason it took so long to get the results. First there were printing issues. Then last week, Secretary of State Jena Griswold announced that 828 replacement ballots were not delivered until Election Day—664 of those ballots were intended for Aurora voters. This week, volunteers have been connecting with voters to cure ballots that had errors such as a missing ID, missing signature, or a signature that doesn’t match another on file. The deadline to cure ballots was Wednesday evening, and election officials have spent Thursday counting each vote. Aurora also faces challenges of scale—it’s split into three counties and has a land area larger than Denver.
Montgomery had not conceded the race as of Friday morning, but said in a statement Friday he would speak at a community gathering Monday at 2 p.m. Montgomery’s campaign manager, Ashley Wheeland, said on Thursday that the campaign spent the week mobilizing volunteers to make sure every vote was counted. “For this large turnout, we understand that the process was a bit slower,” Wheeland says. “Of course, we would like it to be fast, but we want every vote to be counted and looked at and everyone to get that opportunity. So [vote counters in each county] are doing their due diligence.”
The Coffman campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
The Aurora election results for the mayor and City Council elections were certainly influenced by the number of candidates who were on the ballot. In the mayoral race, no candidate secured 50 percent of the vote, which would have automatically triggered a runoff election in Denver, like we saw in May. In that race, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock only received 39 percent of the vote in a six-person election, sparking a runoff against challenger Jamie Giellis. Several positions on Denver’s City Council also extended into runoffs. Mayor Hancock was ultimately elected to a third term with 56 percent of the vote.
While Aurora’s election system likely played a role in the results, it also puts the incoming mayor in a tough position. If results hold, Coffman will take office over a constituency in which he received 35.77 percent of the votes cast (Montgomery received 35.48 percent, per the last official tally).