Most counties deny Marks 
ballot inspection

by Curtis Wackerle, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

Aspen elections activist Marilyn Marks is 1 for 6 in her effort to compel other Colorado counties to allow her to inspect voted ballots from recent elections.

Weld, Denver, Delta and Gunnison counties denied requests Marks made under the Colorado Open Records Act for access to inspect actual ballots cast. Marks withdrew her request to Pitkin County after election officials here said they needed to seek a court’s opinion on whether the ballots could be released.

El Paso County allowed Marks to inspect ballots cast in the August primary.

Marks, who is suing the city of Aspen over its refusal to release computerized images of ballots cast in the 2009 municipal election, believes that all cast ballots should be open to inspection by any member of the public as a way to verify vote count accuracy. But most of the clerk and recorder offices she contacted around the state don’t believe the ballots can be inspected by curious citizens.

Denial letters sent to Marks by Weld, Denver, Delta and Gunnison county officials state that ballots are protected records and that releasing them opens up the possibility that voters could be identified, which would violate the state constitution. Most of the denial letters point out that established procedure only allows for ballot boxes to be opened after an election if there is a court order as a result of an election challenge.

“The public interest in maintaining and preserving the secrecy of ballots would be substantially jeopardized if they are made available for public inspection,” Denver Clerk and Recorder Stephanie O’Malley wrote in her denial letter to Marks. O’Malley also notes that providing Marks with the records, particularly from nearly 300,000 voters in Denver, would be a time-consuming process for which Marks would be charged $20 per hour.

The denying counties offered Marks the option of going to district court for a determination on whether the ballots should be released. Marks said she would prefer to resolve her current pending litigation before taking on a new legal challenge.

Weld County, which has initially said Marks could come inspect ballots, denied Marks’ request after further consultation with election managers. The specific ballots she requested were from a mail-in election and apparently some of those ballots were signed by the voters, despite specific instructions to the contrary. Marks said she will ask Weld County if it can remove the signed ballots and provide her with all the other ballots.

El Paso County, home to Colorado Springs, granted Marks the ability to review ballots. She cross-checked the ballots from one precinct with the results tabulated by voting machines. Her audit showed 100 percent concurrence, she said.

According to a statement released by a group advocating for disclosure of ballots, El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Robert Balink supports public disclosure of ballots as a crucial oversight mechanism.

“As election systems become more mechanized and complex, it is key for citizens to exercise their rights and responsibilities of human oversight of their elections,” Balink said in a statement from Coloradans for Voting Integrity, a group which includes Marks and Harvey Branscomb of El Jebel. “A government should not tell its constituents who was elected. The people, actively overseeing their own elections, should tell the government who was elected.”

In Pitkin County, which Marks recently praised for its well-run primary election, county election officials informed Marks shortly after receiving her CORA request that they intended to present the question to a district court judge. Marks then formally withdrew the request.

Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder Janice Vos Caudill declined to answer whether she thought it would be harmful to the public to release the ballots. However, Vos Caudill said that there are well-established procedures for election oversight and transparency. The county goes to great lengths to work with election judges, from both the Democratic and Republican parties, to make sure votes are counted accurately, Vos Caudill said.