Voted ballots still too hard to access
Friday, Nov. 20, 2015 – 4:06 p.m.
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.
As reported by Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition Director Jeffrey Roberts, Branscomb’s request to verify the Nov. 3 elections in those counties would cost him thousands of dollars.
Of the eight counties, six have said he must pay a total of about $20,000 in advance so officials can scan ballots for marks that could identify voters and redact the scribbles.
Only Adams County said the cost would be “near zero” to review and redact 73,103 ballot scans. Denver has yet to say how much it would cost.
But Jefferson County asked for an advance payment of $12,475 to review and redact 185,000 ballots. Douglas County sought $4,000 to review 88,000 ballots, and Mesa County asked for $1,500 to view 29,000 ballots.
Adams County says its system would allow it to quickly scan images of its ballots to look for markings and the cost would be next to nothing.
The Adams County vendor, Clear Ballot, is one of four being considered for statewide use. As Secretary of State Wayne Williams considers which of the four systems might be best for the state, one of his criteria should be the ease with which officials can comply with open records requests at a reasonable cost.
Legislation from 2012 gave election officials the authority to charge “actual costs” for records requests, but if the result is prohibitive, then the right to the records is meaningless.
Putting such high costs on a citizen’s efforts to examine voted ballots restricts public access and cripples an important check on election integrity.
New voting technology should make transparency easier, not the other way around.
Harvie Branscomb’s posted records request threads are in this article: http://electionquality.com/2015/11/colorado-pilot-access-to-ballots/