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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Colorado: Veto pressure mounts as Hickenlooper reviews open-records elections bill | The Colorado Independent
In the weeks since the Colorado legislative session ended, calls for Gov. John Hickenlooper toveto House Bill 1036 have come from the political left, right and center, from government watchdog organizations, citizen rights and tax reform activists and from representatives of the sovereign Ute Mountain Ute tribe in southwest Colorado. Whatever happens by next Friday, when the deadline to sign the bill arrives, wrangling over its contents and legitimacy will continue indefinitely. “Litigation will follow a signature from the governor. It’s a certainty,” Jennifer Weddle, attorney for the Ute Mountain Ute, told the Colorado Independent. She said the tribe is deeply concerned the bill would limit protection against the kind of voter suppression efforts that have plagued Indian voters in the United States for decades. “Whether a suit is filed by the [tribe], by an individual member of the tribe or by a Colorado citizen, the process by which the bill was passed was so broken that litigation is certain.”
Colorado: Ballot review open only to select parties? – Hickenlooper must decide whether to veto HB 1036 | Colorado Statesman
Gov. John Hickenlooper is weighing a controversial bill that some believe creates a separate class of the public in reviewing ballots following an election, with the aim of maintaining anonymity while also allowing for transparency. House Bill 1036 — which began as Senate Bill 155, but was grafted onto HB 1036 in the waning hours of the regular legislative session — would solidify in statute that ballots are open to the public under the Colorado Open Records Act, but not immediately available to all members of the public. Instead, the bill would create a category known as an “interested party,” which would include political parties and representatives of issue committees, or stakeholders involved in the outcome of the election. Those “interested parties” would be granted access to ballots starting 45 days before any election and until the election is certified, while the rest of the public — including the press and watchdog groups — would be prohibited from reviewing the ballots until the election is certified by county clerks.
A growing coalition is asking Gov. John Hickenlooper to veto a bill that creates rules for public inspection of voted ballots, saying it is “an unprecedented step” to block the public’s right to ensure fair elections that was “ramrodded” through the legislature in its final days. Among those who have contacted Hickenlooper or plan to do so are members of the Colorado Lawyers Committee Election Task Force, the chairman of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe, Colorado Common Cause, Colorado Ethics Watch and two election-integrity groups. “The reality of this legislation is that at the most critical time, when the public has an interest in clerks’ management of elections, it creates an unprecedented exemption from (the Colorado Open Records Act),” said John Zakhem, a prominent elections attorney.
A District Court judge has deemed election records in Jefferson County open to public review and has awarded attorney’s fees to Aspen election activist Marilyn Marks, who was denied access to the information. Judge Randall Arp, in a ruling issued Monday, directed Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder Pamela Anderson to provide the records requested by Marks and rejected the clerk’s claim that release of the information could violate voter rights to an anonymous ballot. Any information that could potentially lead to identification of an individual voter who cast a ballot could be redacted, Arp concluded. Marks said Tuesday that her legal expenses in the case total about $100,000. Jefferson is among several counties in Colorado where Marks has asked to view ballots or other election data under the Colorado Open Records Act, or CORA, helping fuel statewide debate about whether ballots cast by voters should be subject to the open-records law.
A voter advocacy group claimed Thursday that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s 2011-2012 office calendar contains gaps and inconsistencies, suggesting that he spends too much time working on issues unrelated to his office.But Kobach, a Republican, defended his work ethic and said the critics were simply misreading his schedule. “My calendar principally just includes my appointments and scheduled interviews,” he said. “The time that’s not scheduled is the time like right now when I’m working on documents, reading court cases …. The claim they are making is completely unsupported by the calendar.”
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.
A group of Colorado voters filed a federal lawsuit against Secretary of State Scott Gessler and six county clerks today, saying their election practices are unconstitutional because they allow some ballots to be traced to the person who cast them. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Denver, argues that voters in those counties are being deprived of their right to a secret vote, and asks a federal judge to order the practices stopped. “The right to a secret ballot is a revered principle of American democracy,” said Marilyn Marks, a voting integrity activist who founded Citizen Center, the group that filed the lawsuit. “No one, most particularly government officials, should have access to information that can connect ballots with voters,” Marks said.
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.
Colorado is currently in the midst of a heated legal dispute over whether images of local ballots should be made available for public scrutiny in an election dispute. The controversy started in 2009, when Marilyn Marks lost the Aspen city mayoral election to Mick Ireland. Marks petitioned to view images of the anonymous ballots (sometimes referred to as TIFF files), but the city denied her request.
She then filed suit in state court under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA), but the district court ruled against her. She appealed to the Colorado Court of Appeals, which reversed the lower court in September of this year, holding that the contents of the ballots should be released.
The substance of the issue is that the city contends that the images constitute ballots, and thus are barred from public release by the provision of Colorado’s constitution which protects the secrecy of ballots as well as local regulations as to the disposal of ballots. The Court of Appeals’ holding rejected both of these arguments, holding that the images are not ballots, and that the state constitutional protection only extends to the identity of the voter, not to the substance of the ballot.
A candidate’s request to inspect ballots cast in Aspen’s 2009 municipal election has set in motion similar efforts around Colorado. The end result might be new rules that govern the review of ballots or that withhold them from public inspection altogether.
Meanwhile, Aspen resident and 2009 mayoral candidate Marilyn Marks is expected to review on Tuesday 100 ballots cast in Pitkin County’s Nov. 1 election. Rather than simply eye the ballots, though, Marks has suggested that county Clerk and Recorder Janice Vos Caudill and a group of election officials look over 100 to 200 ballots with Marks and discuss whether any of them are “identifiable.”
The potential to link a voter to a particular ballot via various election information that is available to the public through the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) has emerged as a concern among county clerks across the state as they respond to ballot requests from Marks and others.