Attorneys in a dispute between the Saguache County clerk and recorder and the secretary of state exchanged arguments Tuesday over the state’s authority to conduct an election review and the privacy of voted ballots. Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler sued Clerk Melinda Myers in March for access to the ballots, prompting 3 1/2 hours of testimony and argument in Saguache County District Court.
Gessler called for a review of the election that would include a hand count of the ballots, although the findings would not change the election results.
The aim of the review is to calm controversy over an election in which the clerk’s office conducted a second count of the ballots with state approval that flipped the results in favor of Myers and Linda Joseph, an incumbent Democratic county commissioner.
Although Myers had said the secretary’s office could review her office’s conduct, she later pulled out of the exercise, objecting to provisions that would make the ballots public.
Deputy Attorney General Maurice Knaizer laid out his argument around witnesses who showed the secretary’s office had taken possession of another county’s ballots in the past.
Drew Durham, who was co-director of the secretary’s Elections Division from 2002-04, testified to taking ballots from both Garfield and Mesa counties for separate audits. He also told the court that temporary workers were sworn in to help complete the audit, although neither the press nor the public at large were allowed to view the counts conducted under the review.
Durham did not recall if he had seen any ballots that revealed the identity of voters but said that information would have remained confidential.
Saguache County Attorney Ben Gibbons, arguing on behalf of Myers, said the clerk was bound by the state’s constitution to protect the secrecy of the ballots. And he concluded, after questioning of the secretary’s witnesses, that there was no state law or agency regulation that would authorize a review in which the ballots were made public.