A Colorado voter advocacy group has filed a lawsuit against the Colorado Secretary of State and six county clerks, arguing that ballots in the current system are traceable — violating voters’ right to secret, anonymous ballots. This flaw, the group says, exposes Coloradans to voter intimidation and could discourage people from casting their ballots. But the county clerks deny there are threats to voter privacy and say the allegations put forward by activist Marilyn Marks are not true. “It’s an absolutely fundamental right that we have to a secret ballot,” says Marks, the founder and president of Citizen Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that focuses on accountability and transparency in elections. “If we start thinking about what happens if we lose that right…voters can be intimidated. Voters may stay away from polls. Voters can’t vote their conscience. That’s such an undemocratic proposition. We just cannot let that happen.” Here’s the problem, according to Marks: Election staff can trace specific ballots right back to voters through unique barcodes assigned to each ballot.
The example she gives is that a boss who wants employees to vote for a certain candidate could require that all employees hand over their unique barcode numbers from their ballots. The boss could then send those numbers to a friend within the elections office who could confirm whether the employees actually voted the way they said they would. She says she thinks these barcodes exist as an auditing tool, but that it ultimately makes information available to insiders that needs to remain private. “You are never supposed to be able to do that,” she says. “There are longstanding laws to keep you from doing that.”