Election integrity advocate Marilyn Marks has filed a Help America Vote Act (HAVA) complaint with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office concerning the Saguache County 2012 General Election. The complaint was filed after examination of M-100 machine tapes showed apparent discrepancies in the vote tabulation. Marks’ activities in Saguache County came under fire this summer and fall prior to the general election after commissioners candidates Jason Anderson and Ken Anderson, who later won their election bids made it clear they felt Marks was unjustly interfering in Saguache County business and should butt out.
On January 24 Saguache County, CO voters overwhelmingly recalled County Clerk Melinda Myers. Myers had been under fire ever since presiding over a hotly-disputed 2010 election in which preliminary results – which showed some candidates, including Myers’ GOP opponent, leading – were ultimately reversed due to reported machine problems and other errors. Although a grand jury found no evidence of criminal conduct, the 2010 election led to a long-running battle involving Myers, local activists, election officials and the courts about whether and how to allow scrutiny of voted ballots in the name of transparency.
The recall of Saguache County Clerk Melinda Myers offers some lessons about transparency and the good sense of voters. Myers, who oversaw a messy election in which she prevailed over a challenger, was booted out of office this week with a resounding 68 percent of the vote. We suspect voters were dismayed not only by the controversial outcome in the 2010 election, in which results were reversed days after the polls closed, but by the clerk’s fight to keep ballots secret. We supported a public recount of the ballots in an effort to build public trust in the process. And we think county clerks, who are pushing for legislative action this session to restrict public access to voted ballots after elections, ought to take note of the Saguache recall. Voters may not be as keen on their efforts as they think.
County Clerk and Recorder Melinda Myers lost her recall election by more than a 2-1 margin Tuesday night and will be replaced by the candidate she beat in a controversial 2010 election. Voters recalled Myers, 941-453, pushing her from office 14 months after an election that prompted two reviews by the secretary of state and another by a statewide grand jury. Republican Carla Gomez, who lost to Myers in the last election, topped independent Patricia Jenkins, 762-319, according to Tuesday’s final unofficial results.
As Colorado shapes up to be a swing state during the 2012 General Election, suggested changes to Secretary of State (SOS) rules governing election integrity and transparency could further endanger Coloradoans’ rights to an anonymous ballot and honest elections.
Those hoping for a fair election outcome in a crucial race for the White House will instead probably face relaxed security precautions for already compromised electronic voting devices. They also could be faced with a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) blackout that would deny access to key election documents for nearly 90 days during the election cycle.
The CORA block would prevent poll watchers, media, and ordinary citizens from examining ballots, and would delay and restrict examination of logs, poll books, and other essential election information in the event of a disputed election. This even after Colorado Sec. of State Scott Gessler won a lawsuit in August 2011 against Saguache County Clerk Melinda Myers, with District Judge Martin Gonzales ruling that ballots are public records and Gessler as well as ordinary citizens have a right to request and inspect them.
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.
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.
The three-member Committee to Recall Melinda Myers announced Tuesday that volunteers have gathered 816 signatures within the time period prescribed by law, 200 more than needed to move forward and set a date for the county clerk’s recall election.
Committee members Steve Carlson, John Baker and Pat Jenkins supervised more than 10 volunteers who fanned out across rural Saguache County for two months to find signers for the petitions.
“All along I was very confident that the estimated numbers we needed were there,” former commissioner’s candidate Steve Carlson said. “It seemed like a huge task to get this accomplished in the time we had, so I’m proud, happy and thankful for all petition gatherers.” Carlson himself was able to collect signatures for a good number of petitions and several other volunteers filled out two petitions or more.
The majority of those participating in the hand count of the Saguache 2010 election Aug. 29-31are in agreement that key materials they needed to review in order to determine the cause of election irregularities were withheld from the public.
The count varied little from the initial totals released by the county following the SOS review of the retabulation and the subsequent recount. Most importantly, judges were not allowed to break mail-in ballots into precincts for a close examination or to count Precinct 5 votes as a separate group.
Lost in the national news about Congressional hearings and high-profile fights in Maine, Ohio and South Carolina is a running controversy in one Colorado county that raises fascinating questions about our system of elections and who’s ultimately in charge. Saguache County, located southwest of Denver, is huge in size (Rhode Island and Delaware could fit inside) but tiny in population (6,108 in the latest Census).
In November 2010, the County’s general election featured, in addition to federal and statewide races, a re-election contest for the County Clerk and Recorder position held by Melinda Myers. On Election Night, results appeared to show that Myers, a Democrat, had had lost to her GOP challenger Carla Gomez. A few days later, though, Myers’ office announced that her office had discovered an error and conducted a retabulation that resulted in her winning re-election.
Colorado: Judge rules Secretary of State has access to election ballots; recall of Saguache County Clerk initiated | Crestone Eagle
According to District Judge Martin Gonzales, Saguache County Clerk Melinda Myers must allow Secretary of State Scott Gessler to have access to Saguache County’s voted ballots from the November 2010 election. 31. He plans to recount them the end of August. As promised prior to the hearing, Myers has agreed to follow the Judge’s ruling and turn over ballots.
But even as the Clerk and Commissioners sought clarity on the ballot issue, a group of citizens calling themselves the Committee to Recall Melinda Myers as County Clerk and Recorder continue to gather signatures on a recall petition. They hope to put the recall on the ballot in a special election, probably after the November 2011 regular election.
The controversy over the County Clerk stems from the November 2010 vote count, where a discrepancy was found between the first vote count, which was made on election night, and another vote count done on November 5.
Colorado: Citizens challenge Secretary of State’s plan, discover ballot irregularities | Center Post Dispatch
The review of the 2010 ballots, won by Sec. of State Scott Gessler last month began in Saguache Monday, with a core group of volunteers offering to serve as judges and observers for the hand count. Judge Martin Gonzales ruled in Gessler’s favor Aug. 11 allowing the SOS to view voted ballots, which Gonzales determined “may be subjected to public inspection.” His ruling shot down Saguache County Clerk Melinda Myers’ contention that such a review would violate voters’ rights to secrecy.
Directives for the review issued by the SOS last week did not preclude the counting of mail-in ballots separated out into precincts. But Jessica Duboe, Democrat judge for the Nov. 2 election told the SOS that the mail-in ballots were not sorted by precinct and indicated they should not be disturbed. Duboe added that she was speaking as a representative of the clerk’s office.
The group peppered Secretary of State’s Office (SOS) staff with questions about how the review should be conducted and what should be reviewed. They protested that the votes cast in Prec. 5 (Crestone) have been in question since the election and since they were largely mail-in, should be counted as a precinct in order to decide if the Nov. 5 “retabulation” of these votes following the discovery of the error was accurate.
There, that wasn’t so terrible, was it? Democracy didn’t sputter out when citizen volunteers were allowed to inspect — and yes, handle — ballots cast by residents of Saguache County in a recent recount of last fall’s contested results.
Unwashed barbarians did not desecrate the sanctuary of our election priesthood, as Colorado’s county clerks all but predicted earlier this year when they were denouncing the proposal. “We believe ballots are sacred,” the president of the Colorado County Clerks Association declared in commentary published in The Post, adding that “the integrity of our elections is worth fighting for.”
Yes, the integrity of our elections is worth fighting for. And that’s why the precedent in Saguache County is so important.
Last fall’s general election in sparsely populated Saguache County already is one of the most scrutinized in Colorado history, having prompted a report by the secretary of state, a statewide grand jury investigation and at least three lawsuits. Yet this week Saguache is setting a new precedent for election transparency in Colorado, playing host to what state officials believe is the first public review of voted ballots and other election materials of its kind.
And when the days-long recount of the approximately 2,500 ballots is complete — possibly late today, maybe Thursday — absolutely none of last fall’s results will change. That’s OK with Steve Carlson, the 2010 Republican candidate for county commissioner who went home on election night thinking he’d won, only to have the results flipped a few days later. While his race is one of the two controversial races being recounted, Carlson insists what’s at play here is something more important than a commissioner’s seat.
Colorado: Judge rules Secretary of State has access to election ballots; recall of Saguache County Clerk initiated | Crestone Eagle
According to District Judge Martin Gonzales, Saguache County Clerk Melinda Myers must allow Secretary of State Scott Gessler to have access to Saguache County’s voted ballots from the November 2010 election. 31. He plans to recount them the end of August. As promised prior to the hearing,
Myers has agreed to follow the Judge’s ruling and turn over ballots. But even as the Clerk and Commissioners sought clarity on the ballot issue, a group of citizens calling themselves the Committee to Recall Melinda Myers as County Clerk and Recorder continue to gather signatures on a recall petition. They hope to put the recall on the ballot in a special election, probably after the November 2011 regular election.
State election officials will hold a review next week of the Saguache County election, although specific dates remain to be finalized, a spokesman for Secretary of State Scott Gessler said Tuesday. Spokesman Andrew Cole said the review might run for part of Monday and all of Tuesday and Wednesday at the Saguache Community Building. He expected those details to be ironed out today.
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.
Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler has won his lawsuit over the manner in which Saguache County conducted its 2010 election. We’re happy he prevailed.
Mr. Gessler sued County Clerk and Recorder Melinda Meyers after she refused to turn over ballots from the election and argued that a public review would violate the secrecy of the ballot. Reflexively, many of the state’s county clerks backed her argument.
But District Judge Martin Gonzales ruled that Ms. Meyers had not established that ballots contained information which would identify a voter. He further ruled that requesting the ballots for review was within the powers of the secretary of state — the state’s top elections official.
The Saguache County clerk must turn over ballots from the problem-plagued 2010 general election for inspection by the Colorado secretary of state, a district court judge ruled today.
“To prevent errors in future elections, the Secretary as a higher authority must be allowed (sic) review all aspects of a prior election to determine whether the clerks have complied with existing procedures,” Judge Martin Gonzales stated in a written order. “Otherwise, the errors may be repeated in future elections.”
Gonzales also said voted ballots “may be subjected to public inspection” as long as they do not disclose the voter’s identity. Secretary of State Scott Gessler sued Saguache County Clerk Melinda Myers earlier this year, after Myers refused to turn over ballots for a public review by Gessler’s office.
The state can conduct a public review of November’s election in Saguache County election that includes voted ballots, District Court Judge Martin Gonzales ruled Thursday evening. Secretary of State Scott Gessler sued county Clerk & Recorder Melinda Myers in March after she had refused to turn over the ballots and argued that a public review would violate the secrecy of the ballot.
Gonzales ruled the defense had not established that ballots contained information that would identify a voter. Moreover, the ruling stated that requesting the ballots for the review was within Gessler’s powers.
It compared inclusion of ballots in the review to an auditor’s need to see invoices, checks and receipts. “Likewise, the secretary cannot review the adequacy of procedures used in ballot counts without reviewing the voted ballots,” the ruling stated.
According to an article on the BOCC recall petition hearing in the Pueblo Chieftain last week, Saguache County Clerk Melinda Myers says the Secretary of State’s (SOS) Office would permit the use of the M650 to tabulate recall election results.
The recall committee for Myers represented by former commissioner’s candidate Steve Carlson requested Aug. 2 that Saguache Commissioners appoint an official other than Myers to conduct the recall election and asked that the votes in the election be counted by hand.
Commissioner Sam Pace announced that Saguache Treasurer Connie Trujillo had been appointed to oversee the recall election and would be assisted by a retired Colorado county clerk or other individual familiar with election processes. The decision to hand count the ballots would need to be made by Trujillo and her assistant, Pace said.
A group seeking the ouster of Saguache County Clerk & Recorder Melinda Myers submitted its recall petition to the county Monday. While the group must still gather approximately 600 signatures from registered voters, the submission was the first step for a recall election that could take place in December or early next year.
The petition lists eight points as grounds for a recall of Myers, who was sworn in to a second term in January. It said she had demonstrated gross negligence in her sworn duties and notes that both a November review by the Colorado Secretary of State and a June report from a statewide grand jury documented failings by her office. It also claims Myers has obstructed a second review proposed by the secretary of state’s office and that the secretary of state has received “numerous unresolved complaints” regarding the 2010 election.
The Committee to Recall Melinda Myers as Saguache County Clerk and Recorder intended to file petitions Aug. 1 with the clerk’s office for approval. The committee is also seeking to ensure that the Board of County Commissioners follows the requirements of the statutes and hires another county clerk in order to guarantee the election is conducted in compliance with the state election code.
In their statement of grounds for recall, the group cites gross negligence on the part of Myers in fulfilling her sworn duties as Clerk and Recorder. It has been documented by the Secretary of State’s 2010 report and the statewide grand jury’s report that Myers admitted under oath that she failed in her responsibilities to the citizens of Saguache County, responsibilities that she also acknowledged under oath were hers. The conclusion of the grand jury report includes the statement: “Clerk Myers and her staff committed the violations in this report.”
Election Systems and Software officials failed to appear for depositions earlier this month after Saguache District Judge Martin Gonzales ruled that the firm could be deposed for a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) suit filed in February.
Denver attorney Robert McGuire, on behalf of his client, Aspen election integrity activist Marilyn Marks, filed the suit to force Saguache County Clerk Melinda Myers to turn over voting records and related documents Marks requested beginning in November 2010. McGuire waited for officials from the Nebraska firm for nearly an hour, he said, before deciding they would not appear.
Marks later filed a motion with the court to hold them in contempt unless they could show sufficient cause for refusing to honor the deposition subpoenas. ES&S made no motion to file a protective order (if their appearance would violate trade secrets and/or force the production of proprietary information) nor did their attorneys move to quash the subpoena, court records show.
Republican Linda Stagner filed an affidavit last week with Saguache County Court protesting County Clerk Melinda Myers’ testimony May 31 during Sec. of State Scott Gessler’s suit to review ballots from the 2010 election. Following publication of a letter to the editor in last week’s issue of the Center Post-Dispatch, Stagner followed up with the following statement in her affidavit.
“At no time on election day or any other time was I told by an SOS official or county clerk staff that covering the over-votes on the ballots was a violation of law or to stop that practice.
“I want the court to know that testimony given in this case was inaccurate at the very least. Again, at no time was I told that the instructions given by ES&S to cover over-votes was illegal and that we were to ignore it. There were four election judges. Why would only one judge be told something this important? All judges were in the counting room during counting and each judge signed every ballot on which adjustments had been made.
A statewide grand jury cleared Saguache County Clerk and Recorder Melinda Myers of any criminal wrongdoing in the November election, according to a report released through the Colorado Attorney General’s Office Tuesday.
“The results of the 2010 general election were a product of the votes of the citizens of Saguache County and were not affected by individual violations of the procedural rules by the clerk and others,” the report concluded.
Myers said in a written statement she hoped the findings would put the election controversy to rest and provide citizens with confidence that the will of the voters was reflected in the election.
The grand jury report on the Saguache County 2010 General Election was released Tuesday afternoon by the State Attorney General’s Office but no indictments were returned in the investigation.
The report relates that Saguache County Clerk Melinda Myers did admit during her testimony that she failed to follow the Secretary of State (SOS) rules during the election.
In commentary submitted to the grand jury following its decision, Myers stated that she was “encouraged to see the conclusions so well explained and hope that we can finally put this election to rest.”
A statewide grand jury’s finding that Saguache County’s controversial elections last fall ultimately were decided correctly should reassure local residents. Members of the panel went through events in minute detail and wrote a report that persuasively explains how procedural problems did not affect the outcome of the election.
It seems that information and transparency can go a long way toward defusing an explosive situation. We wish Saguache County Clerk and Recorder Melinda Myers, who was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing, would fully embrace that message.
Myers remains engaged in a court battle with Secretary of State Scott Gessler over his plan to hold a public recounting of votes in that election.
Colorado: Saguache County, Colorado state officials at odds over access to ballots | The Pueblo Chieftain
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.
Assisted by two election judges, County Clerk Melinda Myers supervised the printout of 49 pages of audit logs from the M650 voting machine last Thursday, covering machine operation records from Oct. 25 to April 13.
Judge Jessica DuBoe printed out the logs while a second judge, Peggy Godfrey, stood watch. The operation took just about an hour.
“ES&S [the machine’s distributor] first said we couldn’t do it,” Myers said. “It would have been nice to know Nov. 3.”