Go with the constitution
Carolyn Sackariason’s article, “Litigious days at City Hall” (Aspen Daily News, 11/21/11), includes a mystifying yet illuminating sentence: “The city, however, contends that releasing the ballots, even if they’re kept anonymous, will substantially injure the public interest because voters could potentially be identified.”
This sentence captures the essence of an epic controversy over who should see ballots. Aspen has withheld the prepared CD of the 2009 ballot scans that could have accompanied disks I and others received of the vote patterns and GrassRootsTV’s recording of ballot scans projected at City Hall on election night.
The sentence reveals the prevailing misunderstanding about why democracy needs anonymity and what ought to be secret in our voting method that is quirkily, but inaccurately, known as secret ballot. It isn’t what’s on the ballot that’s supposed to be secret — it’s the identity of the person who voted it. Our state constitution calls it “secrecy in voting,” never mentions a secret ballot, and specifically requires that no one can know who voted a particular ballot. That’s anonymity. It is a beautiful thing that Aspen may have forgotten.
It makes not a whit of sense for the city to say “even if they’re kept anonymous … voters could potentially be identified,” because anonymous means, exactly, that voters can’t be identified. A true secret-ballot election happens when voters vote in private, mark ballots that are anonymous and untraceable, and then cast them into a precinct ballot box. Then ballots are counted in public where anyone can see them without risk of finding out who voted on which ballot. Ideally everyone who wants to see ballots can count them. Seems strange now, but Aspen in 2009 was about to demonstrate the benefits of such a verifiable election until officials changed their minds and started legal arguments to drag clouds across the sunshine law with the intention of keeping ballots away from public scrutiny.
Carolyn Sackariason has demonstrated that Aspen officials seem to prefer their own definition of anonymous. It goes like this: Anonymity exists only while ballots remain perpetually secret, though they still can be seen by a handful of election officials and their private election contractor. Those ballots inexplicably lose their anonymity, however, when seen by the press or average citizens.
Which of these sounds best to you? One, that officials hide all the ballots including some they believe are traceable, or two, officials run a constitutional election, show anyone the anonymous ballots, and no one can figure out which ballot was marked by whom. Either anonymity as described and required by Colorado’s constitution works or it doesn’t. I say go with the constitution, not Aspen’s perversion of it.