A Senate committee passed a bill Wednesday that would limit when completed ballots can be inspected, despite objections from voters’ rights advocates who said the documents should be publicly available on demand. Lawmakers introduced SB155 in response to a Colorado Court of Appeals ruling that affirmed ballots are subject to inspection under the Colorado Open Records Act. It would limit the availability of ballots around election time and institute safeguards to prevent individual voters’ ballots from being traced back to them. “It’s not a problem for Pueblo, because our ballots aren’t being requested under CORA,” said Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz, who supports the bill. “Our job is to protect voter privacy. That’s why we need this. Transparency is important, but voter privacy is sacred.” The bill would shield ballots from inspection for 45 days preceding an election through a recount time period. Sponsors said that would prevent the inspection process from compromising the election process.
“We are dealing with the essence of democracy,” said Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, one of the bill’s sponsors. Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler testified in favor of the bill, but noted that provisions should be made so that candidates have access to ballots throughout the recount process.
Representatives of the Colorado Democratic and Republican parties also testified together and expressed similar concerns that candidates and parties should be able to scrutinize ballots when election outcomes are contested.
Voting rights activists held up the botched ballot-counting process in Saguache County in the 2010 election to support their position that ballots should be available for inspection during any point in the election process.
An election worker’s mistake caused some ballots to be counted twice. A subsequent review reversed the outcomes in two races, including the county clerk’s contest. The clerk was recalled in January.