The ability to circulate petitions and recall elected officials is a constitutional right. But recall elections are much more difficult than the regularly scheduled elections. They typically are more emotional and controversial. Fewer people vote in recalls so they tend to be less representative, and they are expensive for local governments. County clerks deal with recall elections periodically, more commonly for local officials such as city council members or school board directors. In Colorado last year, we held two recall elections for state legislators — the first time in the history of our state. I supervised one of those recall elections, in which 36 percent of eligible voters participated and cost Pueblo County $270,000. The participation rate would have no doubt been higher and the cost less burdensome had we been able to mail ballots to all registered voters. But a lawsuit by the Libertarian Party revealed 100-year-old constitutional language that candidates have until 15 days before the election to petition onto the ballot, not leaving enough time to print, mail and return ballots. This petition timeline is not in place for any other type of election. It is an even more burdensome timeline for small, rural counties with fewer resources.
A Senate committee passed a bill Wednesday that would limit when completed ballots can be inspected, despite objections from voters’ rights advocates who said the documents should be publicly available on demand. Lawmakers introduced SB155 in response to a Colorado Court of Appeals ruling that affirmed ballots are subject to inspection under the Colorado Open Records Act. It would limit the availability of ballots around election time and institute safeguards to prevent individual voters’ ballots from being traced back to them. “It’s not a problem for Pueblo, because our ballots aren’t being requested under CORA,” said Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz, who supports the bill. “Our job is to protect voter privacy. That’s why we need this. Transparency is important, but voter privacy is sacred.” The bill would shield ballots from inspection for 45 days preceding an election through a recount time period. Sponsors said that would prevent the inspection process from compromising the election process.
Colorado: Opponents of Colorado proposal to relax oversight of electronic voting want to strengthen safeguards, not reduce them | Pueblo Chieftain
Opponents of Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s proposal to relax oversight of electronic voting machines testified Tuesday that now is the time to strengthen safeguards, not reduce them. Gessler and Pueblo County Clerk and Recorder Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz countered during a rule-making hearing that they believe sufficient protections against voter fraud still would exist under the proposed rule change. In its present form the change would reduce the required number of seals designed to prevent tampering with voting machines, end the continuous video surveillance of the machines that is presently required before and after elections and leave investigations of suspicious incidents involving the machines to county officials rather than Gessler’s office. Mandatory inspection of the machines by the secretary of state’s office also would be eliminated under the proposed rule.
Plaintiffs who prevailed in a lawsuit to decertify Colorado voting machines in 2006 spoke out Wednesday against Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s proposal to relax security protocols for the machines. Gessler has proposed a rule change that would eliminate his office’s mandatory inspection of voting machines in counties, lessen the requirement for tamper-proof seals on the machine, lift the mandate for clerks to report suspected tampering to the secretary of state and reduce the amount of video surveillance required for the machines.
“This is the culmination of about a year of work with our staff and county clerks’ staffs,” said Rich Coolidge, spokesman for the secretary of state’s office. Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz, president-elect of the County Clerks of Colorado, said the organization favors relaxing how direct recording electronic voting machines are monitored.
…Denver lawyer Paul Hultin, who represented voters in a 2006 lawsuit seeking to do away with terminals in the state, said if the new rules are adopted as Gessler has proposed them, the security of the voting machines will be compromised. Hultin, of the firm Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell, contends Gessler is overstepping his authority to relax the rules and is opening a door to fraud through computer hacking. He also worries that evidence on paper that could settle disputes and questions of fraud is not an option in electronic voting.
Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz defended his right to send ballots to “inactive voters” this year over the objections of Secretary of State Scott Gessler. Ortiz told the Colorado Independent he believes his main objective as clerk is to facilitate participation in elections and, on that score, he has succeeded. As of Monday night, 16 percent of the county’s roughly 17,000 inactive voters had cast ballots. That’s 2,700 votes, nearly 9 percent of all votes cast in the county, which is a lot of votes.
“This means that Pueblo[‘s] [inactive] voters responded and will have a significant impact on this year’s election,” Ortiz said. “The bottom line is that all registered voters had the opportunity to cast a vote. And the more people who participate, the stronger our community.”
Boulder and Pitkin counties have reversed course and will send election ballots to inactive voters this month, the Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s office confirmed Monday. That turnaround comes only two days after a Denver district judge refused to block Denver and Pueblo counties from doing so.
Boulder will send ballots to about 24,000 inactive voters, while Pitkin will send out about 2,500 ballots. Mesa County officials also notified Gessler on Monday that they will send ballots to their inactive military and overseas voters only, but not to inactive voters within their county. El Paso County, which has a heavy registration of overseas military voters, was the target of protests Friday from one veterans group objecting to Clerk Wayne Williams’ decision not to send ballots to about 800 inactive military voters. Williams reaffirmed after the court ruling that his county does not intend to send ballots to any of its 63,000 inactive voters, regardless of Friday’s court ruling.
Like a fistfight in the street, the judicial showdown between Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler and two county clerks — Pueblo County’s Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz and Denver Clerk Debra Johnson — is starting to draw a crowd as both sides head for a court hearing today in Denver.
Denver District Judge Brian Whitney is scheduled to hear Gessler’s request for an injunction against Denver County at 1 p.m. today. Ortiz will be there, along with Pueblo County Attorney Dan Kogovsek, hoping Whitney will accept their filing to be included in the courtroom fight.
The dispute pits Gessler, a Republican, against Ortiz and Johnson, both Democrats, over the issue of whether the clerks can send mail ballots to inactive voters in those counties. Inactive voters are those who didn’t vote in the 2010 election or freshen their registration since then.
Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz will “reluctantly” comply with Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s order not to mail ballots to 64 inactive military voters. Ortiz announced his decision Friday afternoon, but said the dispute with Gessler over whether inactive voters should receive mail ballots this year isn’t over.
“Pueblo County is currently weighing our legal options, including taking the issue to court,” Ortiz said in a statement. “The secretary of state effectively has denied 64 active military personnel the opportunity to vote.”
The dispute well could end Oct. 7 when a Denver district court hears the case. Gessler is suing Denver County Clerk Debra Johnson over her decision to send mail ballots to active and inactive voters this year. Active voters are those who took part in the 2010 election or freshened their registration since then. Inactive voters didn’t take part in the 2010 election or respond to postcards or queries to renew their registration.
Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz wanted an answer Thursday from Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler to a simple question but one heavily laced with politics: Could Ortiz send out roughly 70 mail ballots to registered county voters in the military, but who did not vote in the 2010 election? “I want an order from the secretary’s office by Friday (today) saying that I cannot send out those ballots because I believe I should under the (Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act),” Ortiz said Thursday morning.
He got his answer at closing time Thursday. Gessler’s letter to Ortiz said the secretary of state was sticking to his position that no inactive voters should get ballots sent to them this election — including out-of-area military voters, or those “covered” by the Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act.
“A covered voter who is registered to vote may apply for a ballot. Ballots are not automatically sent to covered voters,” Gessler’s letter said. “Thus, Pueblo County may only send mail ballots to inactive voters who submit a timely request as required by the (Act).” Perusing the letter Thursday night, Ortiz said Gessler had provided an order as asked.
Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz intends to send out 17,687 mail ballots to inactive local voters if given the go-ahead by the state courts, he said Thursday. Secretary of State Scott Gessler filed suit this week against Denver County over its plan to send ballots this year to roughly 38,000 inactive voters. Pueblo County is the only other county in the state where local officials have indicated they also intend to send ballots to inactive voters.
Gessler told Denver Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson this week that state law no longer permits ballots to be sent to inactive voters — meaning those voters who failed to vote in the last general election and have not responded to prompts by local county clerks to confirm their registration.
The crux of the issue is a state law that “sunset” this year, which formerly required clerks to send ballots to active and inactive voters alike. Johnson and Ortiz both took the position this year that the requirement is still in effect.