Appeals ruling serves the public interest
October 13, 2011
The Board of Coloradans for Voting Integrity (CFVI) respectfully requests the Aspen City Council to revisit its decision to appeal the recent ruling of the Colorado Court of Appeals affirming ballot transparency.
The appeals court benefited the public interest when it ruled that ballots – except any ballot that is identifiable as to who voted it – are accessible by the public under the Colorado Open Records Law. This decision ensures that elections are verifiable by any citizen who wishes to check, while maintaining constitutional “secrecy in voting.”
All Colorado ballots were once numbered to reveal voter identity and kept in a glass ballot box and destroyed six months post-election. Ballots were protected by three separate locks, whose keys were held by three election judges.
In 1947 Colorado voters adopted a constitutional amendment that required an anonymous ballot that can be safely counted in public. In place of unnecessary ballot destruction, new law substituted 25-month retention for elections conducted by county clerks, but laws governing city clerks were not similarly modernized.
Historically, citizen election judges have hand-counted paper ballots in polling places under the oversight of members of the public acting as poll watchers. But in recent decades we took this crucial counting job away from citizens and entrusted it to specially designed but fallible machines. Then we moved these machines away from citizen-run polling places and into specially secured rooms in government buildings, incrementally reducing citizen involvement in how elections are conducted. We started casting more ballots by mail than at our local polling place. The public lost control over who has the ballots and where they are kept. More and more of the election “judges'” job description began to resemble that of menial office workers than guardians of election integrity.
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Purported lower cost and convenience for voters and officials have driven recent changes in election law. But these changes have not sufficiently protected our crucial opportunities as citizens to verify election fundamentals such as accuracy of the vote counts.
Centralization and mechanization in elections beg for more effective citizen oversight that defends key qualities of our elections. The Sept. 29 Court of Appeals decision keeps citizens in the loop and echoes the 2007 State Legislature that resisted an attempt to exempt ballots from Colorado Open Records Law.
By accepting the recent ruling and then taking steps to ensure all Aspen ballots are anonymous as required by the Colorado Constitution, Article VII, Section 8, and available for counting in public, Aspen will better serve the public interest.
Joe Richey, for the board of directors
Coloradans for Voting Integrity