Pitkin County ballot review … to be continued
November 30, 2011
ASPEN – Election activist Marilyn Marks has asked to examine all 605 ballots that were randomly chosen for a state-mandated audit following the Nov. 1 Pitkin County election. The inspection will take place Wednesday.
The Aspen resident had initially asked to see the 605 ballots and then offered to scale back the request to 100 of them to accommodate other demands in the Clerk and Recorder’s Office. County Clerk and Recorder Janice Vos Caudill showed 100 ballots to Marks on Tuesday morning, but Marks said they weren’t the grouping that she had asked to see, and she reiterated a request she made Monday via email to see all 605 of the audited ballots.
Tuesday’s ballot inspection was marked by occasionally terse exchanges between Marks and Vos Caudill over whether the Clerk’s Office had fulfilled the particulars of Marks’ request, how much she should be charged for her open-records request and whether the county had responded in a timely manner.
The matter of how quickly Vos Caudill must respond to Marks’ request under the Colorado Open Records Act was left for the county attorney and Marks’ legal counsel to resolve.
Vos Caudill said she’d delayed a vacation to accommodate Marks’ ballot request, but Marks complained that the clerk hadn’t provided the ballots she requested – the top 100 ballots from a particular sealed box of audited ballots. Rather, Vos Caudill said she chose the top ballots from each of six precincts represented in the box and said there would be an additional fee to provide the remainder of the 605 ballots for Marks’ review. The bill for Tuesday came to $117, including digital copies of a handful of ballots that Marks selected.
The Clerk’s Office is proceeding cautiously in reviewing ballots before they’re made available for inspection, Vos Caudill said.
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“It’s a new process,” she said.
“I would ask for consideration in terms of what you’re going to charge me,” Marks said. “I’d hate to have to pay the cost of a learning experience.”
However, she said she’d drop off a check for $1,000 to augment her escrow account with the clerk’s office in order to cover additional charges. No estimate of the added cost was immediately available.
Making ballots cast in elections available to public review has become an issue throughout Colorado as Marks and others press for access. The state Secretary of State’s Office has drafted proposed rules to guide the process, and the Colorado County Clerks Association may push for legislation to exempt cast ballots from CORA requests.
Marks has said her requests to view ballots are aimed at establishing procedures that promote election transparency – giving the public the ability to verify the results of an election. She is involved in lawsuits in some jurisdictions, including the city of Aspen, where her requests have been denied.
While the county has made ballots available, Marks and Vos Caudill debated whether ballots containing any unusual markings should be withheld from review. They were culled out for Tuesday’s inspection, but Marks suggested a quirky mark on a ballot doesn’t mean there’s any way to link the ballot to the voter who cast it.
“If you can’t identify them, how would I ever be able to identify them?” Marks asked.
“That’s something I want to look closely at,” Vos Caudill said. “I hear what you’re saying.”
The fear that, at least in some cases, a ballot can be connected to a particular voter has been cited by clerks throughout the state. Uniquely marked ballots are one issue; the other is the potential to identify a voter’s ballot because, for example, it was the only one of its type cast in a particular precinct or district on a particular day – information that is available through a CORA request.