On ballots, magic and transparency
November 15, 2011
The city just filed an appeal representing to Colorado’s Supreme Court that if ordinary citizens view voted ballots, “substantial injury to the public interest” will result. Yet The Aspen Times already published pictures of some “secret” ballots. Were readers warned to avert their eyes to avoid injury?
There are many bewildering aspects of Aspen City Council’s decision, made behind closed doors, to appeal the unanimous Court of Appeals ruling upholding election transparency across the state. These points are more digestible one at a time. Let’s take the city’s illogical argument regarding “public injury.”
The city tells the court that making ballots public creates “substantial injury.” Has council forgotten the election code council itself adopted in 2009 requiring that the candidates and public “must be able to observe the ballots as they are counted?” Urging the code’s adoption, Mayor Ireland and Clerk Kathryn Koch repeatedly assured us that citizens could “count the ballots for themselves.”
Indeed, the public could see and photograph the ballots on election night as they were quickly projected one by one on the flat screens and Grassroots TV. The city said this was done for the public benefit of election transparency. The city claims that we suffered no “injury” in seeing them, because the images were quick flickers of data, moving too fast for us ordinary citizens to comprehend. Houdini distracting his audience with illusion?
That “feel-good” exercise was transparency enough for Aspen, councilmen claim. They tell the high court that meaningful frame-by-frame observation of the projected ballots to authenticate the tabulation would inflict “substantial injury” on the community.
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So, councilmen, are ballot images unsafe at any speed, or only at slow speed? Do you really believe that a slow-paced review is harmful, but if the images speed by, the promised public benefit of “transparency” will have been achieved? Will flash-card city budgets be next in this “now you see it, now you don’t” public records policy?
Council wants the public to accept this meaningless sleight-of-hand “transparency” theater, where nothing can be verified. The city claims in its press release that the election was “one of the most transparent” in state history – a spurious claim indeed when one considers the pointless, rapid-motion ballot viewing drama of May 2009 that ended with a curtain dropped too early, while Houdini’s audience awaits in vain the promised opportunity for actual citizen oversight and verification.
With such obvious inconsistencies underlying the closed door decision to appeal, it’s no wonder that the five councilmen refused to allow the requested and required public comment session prior to their court filing. Who would want to face the simple question from the public: “Were you telling the real story two years ago or when you filed your appeal? It can’t be both.”
Their other claims, just as absurd, will be referenced in future letters.