-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, May 21, 2010

Fighting Good Public Policy--(LaBonte Letter in Aspen Times)

Dear Editor:
As an engineer and volunteer election official in Massachusetts, I became interested in Aspen's new municipal election system, which combines approval voting and instant runoff voting to create a unique system.
Using the published election data files and software, I have been able to reproduce the mayor and City Council race results. I am not aware of anyone in Aspen who has tallied those races, but I highly recommend that Aspen city officials try it.
However, reproducing the tally results from “ballot strings” does not mean I have verified the election. To verify an election one must look at the ballots; no less than full transparency will do. But currently Aspen taxpayers are funding an expensive battle to fight election transparency. Aspen, of all places.

The arguments against transparency seem to be rooted in fuzzy laws and a misunderstanding of the meaning of “secret ballot.” The same issue came up in Michigan, but Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox explained it quite well in his recent decision that ballots are indeed subject to Freedom of Information Act requests:
“Voted ballots evidence the electors' preferences, and ultimately support the election or defeat of candidates and the approval or disapproval of ballot proposals in an election. They are the primary source for election results. Therefore, voted ballots are ‘writings' that record meaningful content and constitute ‘public records' for purposes of the FOIA.”
— Mike Cox, on access to ballots voted at an election under the Freedom of Information Act, www.bbvforums.org/forums/messages/150/MI_AG_7247-80970.pdf

Cox went on to dispel myths regarding the “secret ballot”:
“Importantly, the question you pose does not raise ‘secrecy of the ballot' concerns because, as described above, a ballot is no longer traceable to the elector who voted it once the stub with its unique serial number is removed and the ballot is placed in the tabulator. Once placed in the tabulator, the voter's ballot and the selections recorded upon it become anonymous.”
While other governments like Michigan, Minnesota, California's Humboldt County and even other cities in Colorado reaffirm citizens' rights to oversight, Aspen seems illogically committed to a course fighting good public policy and election practices. Efforts are under way to clarify ballot access in Colorado. Hopefully state officials will follow the lead of states like Michigan.
Mike LaBonte
Haverhill, Mass.

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