An issue of voter secrecy or government transparency in elections? That’s the question at the center of one woman’s lawsuit against Mesa County elections officials. Following the 2010 elections, leaders in Saguache County came under heavy scrutiny when it was discovered there were several problems with the counting of ballots there. Their county uses the same voting system used in both Mesa County and Jefferson County.
“As we have uncovered a number of problems with the ES&S product in Saguache County, I became curious about how it operated in Mesa and Jefferson,” said Marilyn Marks, an elections activist who lives in Aspen.
When it comes to ensuring fair and accurate elections, Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Sheila Reiner says her elections department is among the best. “Here in Mesa County we pride ourselves on being leaders in security, accuracy, and transparency,” said Reiner. But it’s the transparency piece where Marks says Mesa County is among the worst.
“If you believe that it is a basic human right to govern ourselves, then how can we govern ourselves if we cannot verify our own elections?” said Marks.
In August, Marks requested three different voting files from the 2010 election under the Colorado Open Records Act. Reiner gave her permission to look through one, told her a second one was not one her office kept, and denied her request to view the third.
“I think it’s the right of a voter to have the right to a secret ballot,” said Reiner. “I feel like it’s also a lawful duty of mine as the Chief Elections Official here in Mesa County.”
The files she would not release are what is referred to as an “EL155” report, or actual images of electronic ballots cast. They do not contain voter names — but Reiner says because of the way state law requires clerks to sort the ballots in these reports, it ultimately places many of them into small groups. When compared with registered voter logs, which are made public, she says individual voters in those small groups could be identified.
“Unfortunately in that raw data she’s requesting, there’s no way to mask it,” said Reiner.
Marks believes Reiner is exaggerating the number of ballots that would apply to and says she’s told her she can leave any potentially identifiable ballots out. She also points out that South Carolina publishes those exact records on the state’s website without any problems. And finally, she argues the local canvassing boards which are often made of members from both major parties have access to them — and therefore the public should as well.