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Public records in secret sessions

Dear Editor:

Monday night the Aspen City Council met in executive (secret) session to discuss in part two Colorado Open Records Act requests seeking to inspect the 2011 ballots. One of the requests is written by me. I delivered mine to a meeting of the Election Commission where it was also decided to obtain the services of independent counsel to assist in responding to records requests for voted ballots like mine.

A few days later, right after a secret discussion within City Council, some of whom are themselves conflicted in being beneficiaries of the same election, the city attorney wrote me a rejection of my records request on behalf of the city clerk. She is also the defendant in the case that led to a Court of Appeals unanimous decision to consider anonymous voted ballots across Colorado accessible via public records requests. The reply I’m anticipating from the Aspen Election Commission hasn’t arrived, yet.

Aspen’s 2011 ballots are already scrupulously anonymous, meaning impossible to trace. They were voted in an election where all efforts were made to use the best possible election procedures. The new rules were a constructive response to troubling revelations that poured out of the 2009 election. I know that once sunlight shines on the 2011 ballots, many fears that have been fanned in Aspen about privacy of individual votes will be forgotten as yesterday’s overblown concern. The pattern of marks on the 2009 ballots are already a matter of public record, but I am not even asking to inspect 2009 ballots.

Some county clerks are now surprising us saying they too can trace ballots to the individual voter through similar unconstitutional mistakes in batching ballots that Aspen made by accident in 2009. The good news is that transparency from Aspen’s 2009 election has revealed a correctable weakness in many Colorado elections. Aspen already corrected these weaknesses in 2011, something I would like to publicize by inspecting those ballots. The city could make these harmless ballots available and by that means diffuse unwarranted fears. The bad news is, so far Aspen is choosing not to.

The City Council’s confusing non-decision to file an appeal to the Supreme Court offers a similar simple choice – find out about and correct the weaknesses in elections or alternatively just cover the weaknesses up. By going back to the Supreme Court, Aspen is advocating the cover-up solution – not just for local municipal ballots, but for all Colorado ballots into the future.

I will be asking progressive supporters of public access to election records for money to counter any effort by Aspen’s City Council to appeal the beneficial decision of the Colorado Court of Appeals. I will attempt to protect Colorado citizens from a really dangerous public policy that would leave Coloradans with no means to independently verify who actually wins each election. I can’t imagine why Aspen would support its elected officials and lawyers when they pursue such a regressive shutdown of access to publicly owned anonymous records.

Harvie Branscomb

El Jebel