A recent court ruling that paves the way for a public examination of the ballots in a controversial Saguache County election is the right legal call and appropriate public policy.
At the heart of the matter is a messy election in which the Saguache county clerk, in charge of tallying votes in the November contest, was losing her own race on election night but then prevailed the next day after she retabulated the votes. The outcome of another race changed as well.
The dramatic turn of events drew attention, as you might imagine, and accusations of “stolen” elections. Inquiries ultimately found that procedural problems did not affect the outcome of the election. Nevertheless, acrimony remained. This was the backdrop for a proposal earlier this year by Secretary of State Scott Gessler, a Republican, who planned to hold a public review of the ballots in an effort to rebuild confidence in the system.
We thought it was a good idea that had the potential to re-establish faith in the county’s electoral system. However, the plan was met with resistance from the county clerk, Melinda Myers, a Democrat.
She told Gessler she wouldn’t comply with his request to examine the ballots for a number of reasons, including her contention that sealed ballots are sensitive documents that historically have been treated as confidential, according to district court records.
In a ruling issued last week, Judge Martin Gonzales said state law very clearly gives Gessler the authority to review the ballots. The secretary has broad power, the statute says, to supervise the overall conduct of the election and that includes inspecting ballots, the judge decided.
That jibes with the language of the relevant law. And it will allow for a public process that could bring about some measure of closure to an election that has stirred up emotions in Saguache County.
But the decision has broader public policy implications. The judge also said voted ballots are “election records” that are subject to the state’s open records laws. “An election record, including a voted ballot, may be disclosed as long as the identity of the voter is not disclosed,” Gonzales wrote.