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Got a ballot problem? Fix it

The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

This week’s filing of a civil lawsuit in federal district court in Denver challenging election practices in six Colorado counties and calling on Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler to take action brings up some interesting questions. We don’t have any of the answers.

Citizen Center, a nonprofit founded by Aspen resident and elections activist Marilyn Marks, filed the suit, claiming the mishmash of election procedures and voting systems employed in the various counties allow at least some ballots to be traced back to the voter who cast them.

Some clerks, according to the group, have denied requests to view cast ballots on the premise that the ballots, examined in combination with the wealth of other voting data that are public record, would allow someone to figure out how at least some individuals voted. Clerks and other election staffers, in particular, are in a position to link a ballot to a voter, the lawsuit claims.

While we find it difficult to fathom someone having the time and inclination to examine hundreds of ballots and other available information in an attempt to figure out who voted for which mayoral candidate in a local contest or how their neighbors voted on a school district bond issue, the notion that it might be possible to do just that is troubling. Presumably, voter intimidation or retribution on some level would be the purpose for conducting such an exercise, i.e., an elected government official steering a contract away from a vendor who voted for someone else. That sort of corruption, too, feels far-fetched to the naive among us, even if it’s possible.

Nonetheless, it’s reasonable to ask the question: Are a county’s election procedures protecting the anonymity of ballots? Do the bar-codes that appear on ballots in some voting systems contain information that ties back to each voter who cast the ballot, and can someone – whether it’s a clerk or someone else – make that connection?

Have, as Marks contends, some clerks gotten sloppy about protecting ballot anonymity in their painstaking efforts to store ballots in a way that allows them to reconstruct an election if need be?

According to the lawsuit, Pitkin County employs practices that keep ballot anonymity intact, but even the Pitkin County clerk has acknowledged potential problems when a batch of ballots contains one or a few ballots cast by voters in a particular special district. Identifying those voters and how they voted on at least some issues may be possible, she says.

The Eagle County clerk has suggested larger batches of ballots be grouped together after an election in an effort to address the issue. We’re sure there are various solutions to the alleged problems.

We don’t think it should take a lawsuit for Gessler’s office to enforce the right to secrecy in voting contained in the Colorado Constitution. And county clerks across Colorado ought to be taking whatever steps are necessary to ensure untraceable ballots in this general election year, with or without the direction of a federal judge.


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