Colorado’s blue wave hit the state’s district attorney races, with one competitive race yet to call

The shift could change the tone of criminal justice reform throughout the state

A photo of the Colorado Supreme Court on July 2, 2020. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)

Democratic candidates for Colorado’s district attorney seats pulled out ahead during the Nov. 3 election — a shift that could change the tone of criminal justice reform throughout the state.

In Colorado, district attorneys are elected in each of the state’s 22 judicial districts and are tasked with prosecuting state crimes, filing charges and directing people to prison diversion programs. As the top prosecutor in each judicial district, they are influential in state and local policymaking.

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Four out of the state’s six races with two candidates from major parties competing for the position went to the Democratic candidate this election, according to unofficial results from the Colorado secretary of state’s office. In Colorado’s 1st Judicial District, the position hasn’t been held by a Democrat in 20 years. In the 8th Judicial District, it’s been nearly 50 years. The 18th Judicial District race, between Democrat Amy Padden and Republican John Kellner, is still too close to call. But Padden has a slight lead with 806 votes.

The tight race could trigger a mandatory recount, which occurs when the difference between the highest number of votes cast (the winning candidate) and the next highest number of votes cast (the runner-up) is less than or equal to one-half of 1% of the highest votes cast, according to the secretary of state’s election rules.

“The people in those judicial districts have spoken, and they have a different expectation on how law enforcement occurs in their community,” said Leanne Wheeler, a board member of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition. “Our first hope would be that those newly elected DAs start looking internally to their offices to see what needs to change with regard to staff, their internal processes, and their engagement with the community that they are charged to serve.”

Democrat Amy Padden (left) and Republican John Kellner (right) are competing to be the next District Attorney for the state’s 18th Judicial District.

In the 18th Judicial District, which encompasses Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties, Padden and Kellner were still split with 546,392 votes counted as of 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday. The winner will replace Republican George Brauchler, who is term-limited. 

Democrat Alexis King is expected to be the first woman to be elected as DA for Colorado’s 1st Judicial District, which encompasses Jefferson and Gilpin counties. The position hasn’t been held by a Democrat in 20 years. King received nearly 55% of the vote and Republican Matthew Durkin obtained 45% of the 354,605 votes counted. King is expected to replace term-limited Peter Weir, a Republican.

In the 17th Judicial District, which encompasses Adams and Broomfield counties, Democrat Brian Mason received 56% of the vote against Republican Tim McCormack. Mason, who is currently the chief trial deputy district attorney for the 17th District, is expected to replace term-limited Democrat Dave Young. 

Young’s office, which Mason is a part of, has been in the national spotlight for not pressing charges against the police officers involved in the death of Elijah McClain — a 23-year-old Black man who died days after a violent encounter with Aurora police in August 2019. Young also faced criticism for filing felony charges against five community activists who helped orchestrate protests throughout July to demand justice for McClain.

Another notable win for Democrats was in Colorado’s 8th Judicial District, which encompasses Jackson and Larimer counties. The position hasn’t been held by a Democrat since the 1970s. Democrat Gordon McLaughlin received nearly 54% of the vote compared to Republican Mitch Murray, who received 46% of the 203,146 votes counted. McLaughlin is expected to replace Republican Cliff Riedel, who is term-limited.

As of Wednesday afternoon, here are the results for Colorado’s seven contested district attorney races.

1st Judicial District: Jefferson and Gilpin counties 

Matthew Durkin (R): 45%
Alexis King (D): 55%

2nd Judicial District: Denver county

Beth McCann (D): 85%
William F. Robinson III (Lbr):

8th Judicial District: Jackson and Larimer counties 

Gordon McLaughlin (D): 54%
Mitch Murray (R): 46%

11th Judicial District: Park, Chaffee, Fremont, Custer counties 

Linda Stanley (R): 61%
Kaitlin Turner (D): 39%

16th Judicial District: Crowley, Otero, Bent counties

Rodney D. Fouracre (D): 39%
William Culver (R): 61%

17th Judicial District: Adams and Broomfield counties 

Tim McCormack (R): 44%
Brian Mason (D): 56%

18th Judicial District: Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert, Lincoln counties

Amy Padden (D): 50%
John Kellner (R): 50%