Get ready for a battle royal over the integrity of elections in Colorado — and just in time for this state’s apparently pivotal role in the 2012 presidential race. If the clash shapes up as expected, lawmakers will have to choose sides between a would-be election priesthood exempt from public oversight — I’m referring to the county clerks — and advocates for a fully open and accountable government.
The clerks, you see, are in a panic about a recent appeals court ruling that says voted ballots are public documents under the Colorado Open Records Act, so long as “the identity of the voter cannot be discerned from the face of that ballot.”
The court’s definition should include the vast majority of ballots, assuming election officials and voters follow the law. But if you listen to the clerks, you’d think the opposite. Embracing Chicken Little as their role model, the clerks’ association issued a statement after the ruling, claiming it “has removed the curtain from our voting booths. Most Coloradans believe their votes should be a secret from their friends, coworkers and even spouses, but today’s ruling means Coloradans’ personal choices can be seen by anyone who asks.” The clerks’ statement is either contemptible fear-mongering or an admission that they supervise a system that comprehensively thumbs its nose at the state constitution’s mandate of anonymous ballots.
Contrary to what the clerks imply, the guarantee of anonymous ballots wasn’t designed to protect voters only from nosy friends, coworkers and spouses. It is supposed to protect us from nosy election officials, too. Either ballots are anonymous or they’re not. If even one person can look at my ballot and deduce my identity using other public information, it’s one too many.
As if eager to incriminate themselves further, however, the association president, Larimer County Clerk Scott Doyle, soon launched another revealing line of attack. He warned several lawmakers that their own votes could be exposed since only “a minimal amount of data mining (utilizing election information that is already considered public record and the voted ballots) would be required to discern how individual voters voted.”
Doyle’s point: The public must be barred from viewing voted ballots because clerks organize and report them in such a way as to allow sophisticated sleuths to link them to actual names.
This stunning claim (or admission) prompted Al Kolwicz of the Colorado Voter Group, which favors public access to ballot records, to file a complaint with the secretary of state. “It is as if Doyle believes that the constitutional requirement for anonymous ballots does not apply to the government … ,” Kolwicz wrote. “Knowledge of a voter’s choices is just as dangerous in the hands of government as it is in the hands of the public. The system is flawed and must be repaired.”
Full Article: Carroll: County clerks crying wolf – The Denver Post.