A Catch 22 at City Hall
August 25, 2009
Is it possible that the Aspen City Council’s decision to not release the May 2009 election ballot images is a “Catch 22”?
The title to Joseph Heller’s satire of bureaucratic madness is used today as a common idiom of contrived circular logic ensuring a no-win situation and consequent protection of the controlling bureaucracy.
If the book’s main character Yossarian wants out of the Army he must prove his insanity. However, claiming insanity shows he is sane because only someone insane would want to stay in the Army and face almost certain death.
Request denied. Catch 22.
For some strange reason this book came to mind when I read the city’s press release justifying the council’s decision to keep secret these already anonymous digital ballot images, requested for independent analysis by Harvie Branscombe and Al Kolwicz of the Colorado Voter Group, an organization dedicated to election fairness and accuracy. The piquantly worded missive frames protection of the ballots, which if filled out legally contain no voter identifying characteristics (other than a few redactable write-in votes), as a sacred and constitutionally mandated duty. Huh?
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Should the council have not come up with its legal opinion on the issue of ballot information release before the election? Oh wait, they did. They said all information would be made public. For some reason they changed their minds. In this now you see it now you don’t environment, what actually constitutes a ballot in Aspen’s instant black box voting process?
Post election the city defines it to include the only-recently-sacrosanct digital ballot images.
What about the already-public data “strings” containing voter intent, necessary under IRV to tabulate election results? Are these not part of the ballot? That would be difficult to justify since the city already released them. They must be some lower form of ballot related information not subject to the newly discovered constitutional duty.
Voting veracity requires the strings and ballot images be analyzed together. One is available. The second is protected by that newly discovered constitutional duty. Even FairVote, the Maryland based election reform group that supported IRV in Aspen is on record that the council should release the ballot images.
So it would seem the City Council finds itself with one foot planted firmly on either side of the “fence of transparency.” On one side public trust demands full disclosure as council promised during the election lead up and immediate aftermath. But, coincidentally on the heels of Harvie and Al’s interest in Aspen’s election process, a bright legal line suddenly appears between the already released data and the anonymous digital ballot images. The ballots are secret, period.
Citizens request copies of the anonymous ballot images for testing against already-released ballot data to ensure election fairness and accuracy. City Council denies the request to keep the already anonymous images anonymous sighting their constitutional duty to ensure election fairness and accuracy.
Request denied. Catch 22…
Constitutional prohibition or not, I think Yossarian would recognize the contrivance and the circular logic.