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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.