Coloradans achieved the important right to review voted ballots as open records through a costly legal battle culminating in a state court of appeals victory in 2011. And the legislature affirmed this critical citizen right to see voted ballots in a bill it passed the following year. But did the victory count for anything? Do citizens really possess the right to review the work of elected county clerks after elections are over? The answer seems to be they do if they’ve got a lot of money, and that’s unacceptable. Election integrity activist Harvie Branscomb found this out when he served open records requests to eight counties after the Nov. 3 elections, seeking to independently audit the accuracy of new voting equipment being tested as a part of a state pilot program.Full Article: Voted ballots still too hard to access - The Denver Post.
The top election official in Kansas has asked a Sedgwick County judge to block the release of voting machine tapes sought by a Wichita mathematician who is researching statistical anomalies favoring Republicans in counts coming from large precincts in the November 2014 general election. Secretary of State Kris Kobach argued that the records sought by Wichita State University mathematician Beth Clarkson are not subject to the Kansas open records act, and that their disclosure is prohibited by Kansas statute. His response, which was faxed Friday to the Sedgwick County District Court, was made public Monday. Clarkson, chief statistician for the university’s National Institute for Aviation Research, filed the open records lawsuit as part of her personal quest to find the answer to an unexplained pattern that transcends elections and states. She wants the hard-copies to check the error rate on electronic voting machines that were used in a voting station in Sedgwick County to establish a statistical model.Full Article: Kansas seeks to block release of voting machine paper tapes | The Wichita Eagle.
Gov. Scott Walker announced over the weekend that Republicans were abandoning their plan to create new exceptions to the state’s open records law, but for months the all-but-certain presidential candidate has been operating as if one exemption already was in place. Two months ago, Walker declined to release records related to his proposal to rewrite the University of Wisconsin System’s mission statement and erase the Wisconsin Idea from state law. He argued he didn’t have to provide those records to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and others because they were part of his office’s internal deliberations. The Progressive magazine and the liberal Center for Media and Democracy sued Walker over those denials. The cases have been combined, and the litigation is pending in Dane County Circuit Court.Full Article: Walker office already acts as if records exemption is law.
Kansas: Wichita State mathematician sues Kris Kobach, Sedgwick County elections commisioner seeking court order to audit voting machines | Lincoln Courier-Journal
A Wichita State University mathematician sued the top Kansas election official Wednesday seeking paper tapes from electronic voting machines, an effort to explain statistical anomalies favoring Republicans in counts coming from large precincts across the country. Beth Clarkson, chief statistician for the university’s National Institute for Aviation Research, filed the open records lawsuit in Sedgwick County District Court as part of her personal quest to find the answer to an unexplained pattern that transcends elections and states. The lawsuit was amended Wednesday to name Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Sedgwick County Elections Commissioner Tabitha Lehman.Full Article: Wichita State mathematician sues Kris Kobach, Sedgwick County elections commisioner seeking court order to audit voting machines | CJOnline.com.
A U.S. District Court ruling handed down Wednesday in Kansas granted disclosure of the names of provisional ballot voters to candidates in a tightly contested state house race, thereby clarifying the scope of voter privacy protection under federal law. The ruling was issued in response to a federal lawsuit filed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to prevent disclosure of the names. Kobach argued that federal election law protects voters’ identities from disclosure, citing § 302(a) of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA): “Access to information about an individual provisional ballot shall be restricted to the individual who cast the ballot.” U.S. District Court Judge Marten rejected Kobach’s argument, reading the plain text of the statute to protect only disclosure of how someone voted, not the identit of the voter. The day following the election, when unofficial results showed incumbent Democratic Representative Ann Mah of Kansas’ 54th House district trailing her Republican challenger by 27 votes out of a total 10,633 cast, she issued a request for the names of the individuals who had cast provisional ballots in her district. That afternoon, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to prevent disclosure of the names.Full Article: Kansas’ Secretary of State: Protecting Voter Privacy, or Politics as Usual? : State of Elections.
Colorado: It’s no secret: Judge tosses ballot privacy lawsuit against Larimer County CO | The Coloradoan
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.”Full Article: It's no secret: Judge tosses ballot privacy lawsuit against Larimer County | The Coloradoan | coloradoan.com.
Colorado: Can your vote be traced? Boulder County is in the thick of Colorado’s budget battle | Boulder Weekly
The election ballot system used by Boulder County is at the center of a standoff between Secretary of State Scott Gessler and several of Colorado’s county clerks. And someone has to blink soon, since the deadline for printing ballots is fast approaching. In addition to Boulder County Clerk and Recorder Hillary Hall, the players include Marilyn Marks, an Aspen activist who has filed suit against Gessler and a number of counties for using ballots printed with information that can be used to trace the identity of voters, contrary to state law. After being confronted with the outcome of Marks’ investigation, in which she and others demonstrated how to track ballots from a June primary election in Chaffee County to the individuals who cast them, Gessler recently issued an emergency rule saying counties could no longer use the serial numbers or bar codes in question. The rule also requires clerks to black out that information when releasing past voted ballots under the state’s open records act, in an attempt to mitigate the damage done and prevent any further tracing.Full Article: Can your vote be traced?.
A group that wants to examine all of the La Crosse County ballots from the June recall vote will have to wait until after the November election. County Clerk Ginny Dankmeyer said her staff doesn’t have the time right now to accommodate Election Fairness’ open records request to do a hand count. Election Fairness made the request to all 72 Wisconsin counties July 2. The group’s attorney, James Mueller, did not respond to a phone call Thursday for comment. But he told the Janesville Gazette earlier this month they believe electronic voting machines could be faulty and vulnerable to tampering. They want to see if discrepancies appear between their tally and the machines’ tally.Full Article: Group seeks hand count of ballots from June vote.
A judge stated Monday a contested order he issued doesn’t bar a citizens group from seeking records from election officials in Chaffee County and five other counties embroiled in a ballots lawsuit. The order, instead, bars the group from circumventing limits on how much information each side can seek from the other side to be used to bolster their positions on the lawsuit, U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Watanabe stated. The elections-activist group Citizen Center had asked Watanabe to rescind a restriction in the order, contending it infringed on rights of the group and its members to use the Colorado Open Records Act.Full Article: Judge clarifies ballot secrecy stance - Pueblo Chieftain: Colorado State And Regional News.
Colorado: Aspen City Council forecasts complicated process in viewing voted ballots | Aspen Daily News
Before the public can look at voted ballots from recent city elections, officials will have to go through each one and decide on a case-by-case basis if stray markings could be enough to identify a voter, under procedures being drafted by the City Clerk’s office. In the case that a ballot is marked up enough that it may not be anonymous, City Clerk Kathryn Koch said she will recommend that the person’s votes be copied onto a duplicate ballot without the stray markings. Koch will present her proposed procedure for viewing ballots to the city’s Election Commission, in a meeting tentatively scheduled for late next week. The state Supreme Court ruled in June that it would not hear the city’s appeal in the case of Marks v. Koch, brought by citizen activist Marilyn Marks. She sued the city after it denied her request in 2009 to see ballots from that year’s municipal election. The Supreme Court this week declined the city’s request to reconsider aspects of the case. Marks prevailed at the appellate court level in September 2011 after a local district court judge ruled in the city’s favor. The city fought Marks’ open records request on the grounds that releasing the ballots would violate a state constitutional provision guaranteeing a secret ballot.Full Article: City Council forecasts complicated process in viewing voted ballots | Aspen Daily News Online.
A see-saw Colorado legal battle over voter privacy has ended with a win for open-access advocates, who claim that the public’s right to inspect voting results at least equals the right to private voting — as long the ballots can’t be connected to individual voters. The Colorado Supreme Court last week let stand a lower court ruling that gave losing Aspen City Council candidate Marilyn Marks the right to inspect the instant runoff voting information from the 2009 election. While there may not have been as much at stake as in the hotly contested 2000 Gore versus Bush presidential election, Marks cited the inspection of the ballots in Florida as part of her legal arguments in the Aspen case, according to city attorney Jim True. The case was complicated by the fact that the State Legislature changed the with regard to ballot privacy after the election, during the course of the lawsuit. Under the revision, adopted in May, 2012, state lawmakers said they want ballots to be considered open records, viewable by anyone as long as their are privacy safeguards.Full Article: Colorado: How secret is your ballot? « Summit County Citizens Voice.
The Colorado Supreme Court has declined to rehear the city of Aspen’s appeal of a lower court’s decision that allows public review of voted ballots from the 2009 election. The decision likely ends a years-long legal fight between the city and Aspen resident Marilyn Marks, who sued the municipality and City Clerk Kathryn Koch after Marks’ open records request to review the ballots was denied.Full Article: BREAKING NEWS: State high court declines to rehear city’s appeal in ballot case | Aspen Daily News Online.
The Rock County Clerk’s Office opened its doors to an unusual request Tuesday. A group of six concerned citizens wanted to cross-check Rock County’s election results of last month’s gubernatorial recall election—by hand. The group members, who said they were part of the action group Election Fairness, had filed an open records request July 2 with Rock County and Wisconsin’s 71 other counties. Its members seek to hand-count paper ballots in storage at counties around the state to determine whether results on paper ballots match electronic tabulations that counties used to total votes in the June 5 recall election between Gov. Scott Walker and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, said James Mueller of Cross Plains, the group’s attorney. Most Wisconsin municipalities rely on electronic voting machines to tally votes from paper ballots. The electronic totals are recorded and added to late-arriving absentee ballots during a post-election canvass. That’s how counties arrive at official election results that they certify with the state. But members of Election Fairness say they believe electronic vote tabulation could be a flawed system. The group argues electronic voting machines can misread ballots and lead to mistakes that can skew election results.Full Article: Citizens group auditing statewide recall election results—by hand -- GazetteXtra.
It was a tiny election in the scheme of things. Only 2,544 votes were cast on a quiet May day in 2009. But over three years later, the ballots in the 2009 mayoral race remain at issue, their photographic images locked up in a court fight which may cost taxpayers well over $200,000 if the winner takes all. What has this squabble over ballot inspection proven so far? In the short run, we proved to ourselves that instant runoff voting produced enough of a stink that we booted it. The procedure, run here by a Maryland firm, was supposed to simulate a runoff if no one won a majority. When we learned that there were multiple ways for guessing how people would vote, we decided that an actual runoff beat one run by a computer program. But that race had another by-product. It produced a court battle that seemed rooted in a clash of egos.Full Article: Sunshine and the ego | Aspen Daily News Online.
The city of Aspen is asking the Colorado Supreme Court to reconsider last week’s order that granted public review of voted ballots in the 2009 election, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees to the plaintiff who brought the case. The court, which in April said it would hear the case of Mark v. Koch, issued a one-page order on June 28 announcing that it had reversed itself and would not review the case, meaning a Colorado Court of Appeals decision in Aspenite Marilyn Marks’ favor from September 2011 will stand. The city had appealed that ruling to the Colorado Supreme Court in November 2011. The city is asking the court for a rehearing, arguing that it shouldn’t have to release the ballots from the May 2009 municipal election because a state law, passed in May by the Colorado Legislature that grants access to ballots as long as they cannot be traced back voters, was not yet on the books. “This legislation in fact emphasizes the assertion of the city that prior to such legislation [the Colorado Open Records Act] did not allow examination of ballots,” Aspen City Attorney Jim True wrote in his nine-page petition to the state Supreme Court.Full Article: City asks Colorado Supreme Court to reconsider ballot case | Aspen Daily News Online.
Did you see the really important Supreme Court judgment handed down on June 28, 2012? No, not the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ho hum affirmation of the Affordable Care Act. I’m talking about the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision to not hear the city of Aspen appeal of the Marks v. Koch ballots-as-public-records case. If you missed it, after three years, Marilyn wins. By deciding to not hear the city’s appeal, the Colorado Supreme Court confirmed that ballots are public records. Colorado’s citizens can rightfully and independently verify their election results, and clerks, both elected and appointed, need to both keep ballots anonymous and allow for their public inspection. What a concept. Something strange happens to a lot of people once they are elected. All of the sudden their unyielding belief in fairness and equality takes a back seat to anything that might deleteriously impact their political station. So it should surprise no one that a failed candidate took a small but insidious issue to the higher ground of statewide public interest.Full Article: Sometimes it’s what a court doesn’t do that matters.
Election officials in Chaffee County and five other counties contend a citizen group suing the officials is trying to create a nonexistent illusion of harm about access to public records. County Clerk and Recorder Joyce Reno and her counterparts in the other counties contend Citizen Center overstated the scope of a court order that restricts requests from the group’s members to view records. The advocacy group, based in Aspen, claimed earlier this month the order violates its right to view records kept by the election officials.Full Article: Officials answer election suit - Pueblo Chieftain: Colorado State And Regional News.
Voted ballots are indeed public records open to inspection by any citizen, the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed Thursday, vindicating local resident Marilyn Marks in her three-year-old lawsuit against Aspen City Hall. The court, which in April said it would hear the case of Mark v. Koch, issued a one-page order Thursday announcing that it had reversed itself and would not review the case, meaning a Court of Appeals decision in Marks’ favor from September 2011 will stand. The city had appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court in November 2011. The brief order stated that the court’s initial decision to review the case had been “improvidently granted. Colorado elections once again belong to the people,” Marks said in a statement released Thursday. “This decision puts to rest a long-standing controversy between the public and election officials across the state who improperly prohibit the public and press from verifying Colorado’s elections.”Full Article: Supreme Court affirms ballots can be inspected | Aspen Daily News Online.
Election activist Marilyn Marks has prevailed in her quest to inspect ballots cast in the 2009 city of Aspen election. The Colorado Supreme Court has reversed its decision to hear the case, the city learned Thursday morning. That means a Court of Appeals ruling that supports Marks’ position will stand. The state’s high court had agreed in April to hear the city of Aspen’s motion to appeal the Court of Appeals decision. There was no explanation from the Supreme Court regarding its change of direction, but it means the Court of Appeals ruling in Marks’ lawsuit against City Clerk Kathryn Koch, custodian of the ballots, has been upheld. “Marks v. Koch is now clearly the law of the land,” Marks said. “I love closure,” was all Koch had to say about the latest development.Full Article: Marks prevails in lawsuit over Aspen election ballots | AspenTimes.com.
Gov. John Hickenlooper signed legislation today that sets rules for public review of voted ballots — a bill supporters say is necessary to prevent chaos in the November election, but critics call a blow to open government. Election integrity activists, members of the Colorado Lawyers Committee Election Task Force and groups such as Common Cause and Colorado Ethics Watch had flooded the governor’s office with letters asking him to veto House Bill 1036. Several of those opponents plan to file a lawsuit to stop the law from taking effect, activist Marilyn Marks said today. “Based on our familiarity with this bill and its flawed process, we believe that those legal challenges will be successful in striking down this law,” Marks said. “We hope that the litigation will have immediate impact prior to the upcoming elections where full transparency is unquestionably required.” Hickenlooper’s office is expected to issue a statement later today explaining why he signed the bill.Full Article: Hickenlooper signs bill creating rules for public access to ballots - The Denver Post.