-Aspen's historic May 5, 2009 IRV election audited as single ballots- 5/5/09 Aspen CO held an instant runoff election (IRV) for mayor and 2 council members. Interpreted contents of each ballot, scanned by True Ballot, were publicly released. Open records requests for a CD of image scans were denied. Aspen has been sued to protect records from destruction and to allow inspection of the scanned ballot files. A Court of Appeals ruling holds that unidentifiable ballots are public records.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Guest Editorial August 20, 2009 in Aspen Daily News Aspen IRV Election Review

The Citizens of Aspen are asking: whose election is this anyway? Does it belong to the government-- made up of the very officials who are candidates in each election? Or is it the people’s election? Apparently this question remains open in Aspen.

In an Aspen election, you see the stub which connects the ballot to you being removed before you cast your ballot. In case of mail-in you may trust an election judge to do this. Once the stub is removed no-one else can trace the ballot to you - including the City of Aspen election officials. But the City is claiming the law says they must keep the ballots secret to protect your privacy. Not so.

You alone might be able to recognize your own ballot from the way you have voted, if you remember the many rankings on your ballot. The protection of the anonymity of the ballot is demanded by the Colorado Constitution as the City has pointed out. If the City has counted any ballots containing identifying marks in any election, it has violated the law. Should the voters be able to learn whether this has happened? The City says you are not allowed to find out- by law. The City says trust: but don’t verify.

If there are no identifying marks - and there ought not be - then there is no need to use secrecy of the already counted ballots to protect voter confidentiality. The record of the collective intent of the voters is contained on ballots and on a disk which, although made for the purpose of transparency, is being withheld from the public- locked away in the “ballot box”. If anything in Aspen deserves to be public information, for the benefit of the public good, it is the contents of that disk. And there is no particular practical reason to destroy it on November 5, as planned, County election officials keep their election records for at least 25 months, according to law. Why should Aspen have a weaker regulation?

If there is a law that actually says we the people cannot see our anonymous ballots, and if it says the permanent record of this groundbreaking and unique election in Colorado history should be destroyed, then such a law should be changed. If somehow the laws to which the City has alluded apply, we are confident that election integrity advocates will lobby to change them. The public will and we hope the City Council will understand the need to view a disk of the ballots, at any time for any reason. There is no way to show evidence of any kind of error, or even “fraud” (which is not suspected here) when the evidence is not accessible.

We don’t know how anyone voted, and we certainly don’t ever want to know. Hiding the ballots is troubling and will never enhance voter confidence. Many new voting and auditing techniques are becoming available, some of which Aspen used. The City of Aspen is trying to translate the requirement for destruction as a message about how dangerous the ballots are. These ballots are only dangerous to a small group- anyone who might fear the revelation of fraud or non-accidental error. After the write-in handwriting and any stray marks are removed or redacted, reviewing ballot images can only safeguard, not endanger voter privacy and confidence. .

Aspen wrote in its election press release: “By making the rankings and all other election data public, everyone had the opportunity to double-check the IRV tallies themselves.” We like the sound of that. Will Aspen now look for ways to hide that data from the public instead of enthusiastically joining the general trend towards more transparency in government?

When an opportunity to contribute to best practices for conducting IRV elections and post-election audits presents itself wouldn’t the City naturally want to bend over backwards to participate? Aspen's experience in the last IRV election could be highly instructive to the Secretary of State, his Best Practices and Vision Commission, and every municipality and county in Colorado, and especially communities across the nation considering IRV.

Citizens of Aspen will be proud to serve the rest of the state and nation by preserving and protecting the right of the public to review election process and results, including the ballots, and particularly the very novel and practical disk containing public ballot images.

Harvie Branscomb, El Jebel CO (Democratic Member, Eagle County Canvass Board)
Al Kolwicz, Boulder CO (Republican Member, Boulder County Canvass Board)
Colorado Voter Group

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