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 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: Scott Gessler targeted by activist over voting in Saguache county and beyond | Denver News
The woman behind Citizen Center, a nonprofit organization that focuses on elections issues and more, is pushing Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s office to hold a hearing prompted by her complaint about alleged voting irregularities in Saguache County. And today, she plans to announce a broader lawsuit focusing on Gessler and officials in several other counties. Marks’s background? “I used to be the primary owner and CEO of a trailer manufacturing firm,” she says. “I retired to Aspen in 2002 and ran for mayor in 2009 — and that experience caused me to get completely passionate about Colorado’s elections, which are some of the least transparent, most troublesome elections in the country. In the past almost-three years, I have become a full-time election-quality advocate: I have seven active lawsuits going on across the state on election transparency and election quality. And now, I’ve established a nonprofit so that I can continue my work in a more organized way.”
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.
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.
Larimer County Clerk and Recorder Scott Doyle is the president of the Colorado County Clerks Association and says that making these ballots a matter of public record could allow people to find out how you voted in that last election and he’s just not prepared to do that.
Secretary of State Scott Gessler says making the ballots a matter of public record creates public confidence and transparency in the clerk’s offices. Scott Doyle says there is no more transparent office than the clerk’s office.
“It’s not that we have anything to hide or anything like that, we’re not afraid of that at all as a matter of fact, our elections are done with integrity in Colorado and we have good records,” Doyle said. But that making ballots a matter of public record is too risky.
Colorado: Clerks prepared to fight effort to make voted ballots available to public | The Denver Post
Colorado’s county clerks say voted ballots should remain private even if there is no way to associate a ballot with the individual who cast it, and they will fight any effort by the public to inspect them — even if it means going to court or asking legislators for help.
The clerks’ position follows the unprecedented citizen review of ballots in Saguache County orchestrated by Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s office. Gessler and many open-government advocates believe that making ballots available for public review is a way to maintain voter confidence; voters literally can see for themselves that a race or races were counted accurately.
The clerks believe the opposite is true. The disagreement is doing more than adding tension to an already strained relationship between Gessler and the clerks.
Wherever you go in Colorado, the most public-be-damned civil servant is likely to be the county clerk.
I’ve reached this conclusion with regret, since my experience with clerks over many years, without fail, has been pleasant and fruitful. But the clerks this year have dug themselves into a stance that endangers the integrity of elections. Moreover, to protect their monopoly on access to voted ballots — a monopoly to which they clearly have no right under the Colorado Open Records Act — they are trying to scare the public with lurid tales of how voter anonymity is at risk.
Back in March, you may recall, the clerks association denounced a bid by Secretary of State Scott Gessler to conduct an official, public recount of a contested election in Saguache County, claiming his “proposal sets a dangerous precedent.” The clerks’ real fear, however, was not that Gessler might look over their shoulder but that he would let the public do so, too. And he did — once a district judge ruled in August that “voted ballots are election records” under the open records law, permitting the recount to proceed.
Today, the Denver District Court accepted an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief filed by Ethics Watch in a Help America Vote Act (HAVA) case arising out of the 2010 election in Saguache County. The suit was filed by Marilyn Marks against Secretary of State Scott Gessler after the Secretary of State’s office dismissed her HAVA complaint for lack of standing.
HAVA requires states that accept federal funding under that act to establish administrative procedures allowing “any person” to file a complaint. Marks alleges that the Secretary of State’s office dismissed her complaint without a hearing, relying on a state statute. Marks argues that the federal statute must control.
An issue of voter secrecy or government transparency in elections? That’s the question at the center of one woman’s lawsuit against Mesa County elections officials. Following the 2010 elections, leaders in Saguache County came under heavy scrutiny when it was discovered there were several problems with the counting of ballots there. Their county uses the same voting system used in both Mesa County and Jefferson County.
“As we have uncovered a number of problems with the ES&S product in Saguache County, I became curious about how it operated in Mesa and Jefferson,” said Marilyn Marks, an elections activist who lives in Aspen.
When it comes to ensuring fair and accurate elections, Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Sheila Reiner says her elections department is among the best. “Here in Mesa County we pride ourselves on being leaders in security, accuracy, and transparency,” said Reiner. But it’s the transparency piece where Marks says Mesa County is among the worst.
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: Mesa, Jefferson County clerks seek court order to withhold Colorado Open Record Act-requested ballots | Valley Courier
In an attempt to obtain a court ruling differing from Saguache District Judge Martin Gonzales’ recent decision that ballots are public records, two Colorado county clerks have simultaneously requested court orders to withhold voted ballots from public inspection.
Mesa County Clerk Sheila Reiner and Jefferson County Clerk Pamela Anderson filed almost identical documents seeking the decisions yesterday in Grand Junction and Golden. Both clerks received Colorado Open Record Act (CORA) requests from Aspen election integrity advocate Marilyn Marks last month and both refused to supply the documents Marks requested.
Marks sought three specific types of voting records: the record of how each anonymous electronic ballot was voted, primarily, but also computer audits and system logs. Both clerks claim to have destroyed the computer audits and system logs, despite the fact that federal and state law requires a two-year retention period.
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.
The Secretary of State will conduct a public review of voted ballots and other materials from the Saguache County 2010 general election next week. The review is an effort to “remove doubt regarding the election results” among Saguache County residents, according to a five-page review and verification plan released today by Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s office. The review will not change the outcome of the election.
Four teams of three people — including volunteers from the Saguache County Democratic and Republican parties, as well as independent voters — will conduct the verification process beginning Monday at the Saguache Community Center. Three races will be reviewed: clerk and recorder, county commissioner and the University of Colorado Board of Regents race. The public and media will be allowed to observe, and the entire process will be videotaped.
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.”
The 2012 elections are big news, but the media are not reporting Colorado’s potential role in a national election fiasco.
Those who understand election equipment and procedures warn that Colorado elections cannot withstand close scrutiny. We call for changes to prevent humiliation if the national press attempts to verify Colorado’s election returns.
If Colorado were an “emerging democracy,” the Carter Center would reject calls to monitor our elections because we fail to meet their minimum transparency standards. If a national contest is decided by Colorado’s vote, as Bush/Gore was by Florida, press everywhere will severely criticize the “Wild West” elections in some Colorado counties.