-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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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Harvie Branscomb's Letter to Aspen Daily News--Open Access to Ballots

The national trend toward open access


“Voted ballots, which are not traceable to the individual voter, are public records subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act,” wrote the Attorney General of Michigan in a May 13, 2010, opinion. His decision shines a new and positive light on Marilyn Marks’ request to a local court for access to digital images of Aspen’s May 2009 ballots.

Michigan voter rights advocates, like Marilyn, sought access to voted ballots from recent elections for auditing purposes. Their Attorney General’s ruling reinforces a fundamental principle that ballots are public records because they are anonymous and must not be traceable to an individual. Michigan’s constitution says only “preserve the secrecy of the ballot.” Colorado’s constitution requires “secrecy in voting,” meaning privacy, and says “no ballots shall be marked in any way whereby the ballot can be identified as the ballot of the person casting it,” meaning anonymous. Colorado’s requirement of ballot anonymity is very specific.

Aspen City officials, the Election Commission and the press could benefit from reading the Michigan opinion (aspenelectionreview.blogspot.com). We can ask why the same basic legal principles and logic don’t apply to Aspen’s ballots and their digital copies.

The city has spent a bundle in public resources aggressively claiming that anonymity might be compromised by allowing the public to study what was already shown on election night and televised. If the city is correct about a lack of anonymity, the identifiable ballots shouldn’t have been counted as legal ballots. If the ballots are anonymous, as required, their images can be safely viewed. Many ballots were publicly reviewed during an “audit” step on May 7.

Aspen, known as a leader in progressive government innovation, is oddly clinging to 19th century concepts of election transparency. Aspen’s laws actually require an audit that they now seem to argue cannot be performed. The information needed for an independent audit has been requested and refused.

If Michigan activists can review ballots for audits, why can’t we? If copies of Humboldt County California’s ballots are regularly posted on the web, why are Aspen’s more secret? If Minnesota can post their questionable ballots on the web, Why can’t Aspen? If Longmont, Colo.’s ordinary citizens can participate in an audit to test procedures for improvement, why are Aspen citizens prevented?

Don’t let Aspen’s officials turn their backs on national trends toward appropriate open access to anonymous election records.

Harvie Branscomb

El Jebel

Source URL: http://www.aspendailynews.com/section/letter-editor/140730

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