A federal judge in Denver ruled Friday that the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee the right to a secret ballot. U.S. District Judge Christine Arguello dismissed a lawsuit brought by voting-rights activists with the Aspen-based Citizen Center that accused Colorado election officials including the Larimer County clerk’s office and Secretary of State Scott Gessler of managing voted ballots in a way that is traceable to individual voters. “Coloradans until today have believed they are entitled to a secret ballot,” said Citizen Center founder Marilyn Marks. “Now we’re being told we are mistaken.”
Plaintiffs said the absence of a secrecy assurance for voted ballots violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause, because voters in some jurisdictions enjoyed anonymity that voters in others did not. Lawyers defending election officials against the suit argued that the Constitution provides no guarantee to a secret ballot. “I’ve always felt that the ballots have been secure and a voter’s secrecy in voting has been protected,” said Larimer County Clerk Scott Doyle.
Plaintiffs’ complaint targeted not only public inspection of voted ballots (which is allowed under Colorado’s Open Records Act as long as voters’ identities are not divulged), but ballots’ chain of governmental custody. Plaintiffs argued that ballots are most vulnerable to tracing by election officials, their employees and election judges.