-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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Monday, November 14, 2011

"Secret ballot" - doesn't mean ballots are secret or contain secrets

 [bold and color are annotations by Harvie Branscomb 11/14/2011]

Wikipedia,  in its first sentence referring to "secret ballot" says:
"The secret ballot is a voting method in which a voter's choices in an election or a referendum are   anonymous."

It later goes on to explain, referring specifically to the USA and quoting the Merriam Webster disctionary:
In the United States the practice became known as the "Australian ballot", defined as having four parts:[13]
  1. an official ballot being printed at public expense,
  2. on which the names of the nominated candidates of all parties and all proposals appear,
  3. being distributed only at the polling place and
  4. being marked in secret.
Note that this definition primarily refers to the ballot not as an object, but rather as a voting method, a process. Note that "being marked in secret" is the crucial characteristic of the ballot when referred to as a noun - not being "kept as a secret".

We should also recognize that in Colorado in recent news there is a different and easily confused reference to "secret ballot", too. There are multiple references to the method of voting used by a municipal board in Fort Morgan, Colorado. The Denver Post explains: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_18621046 

This Fort Morgan controversy over a "secret ballot" is also about transparency - and the "secret ballot" as described was used to violate the expected transparency to the public of the voter intention of the elected official.  In that case, public benefit falls in favor of transparency of the content of the ballot including traceability to the voter, an elected official. When only constituents are voting, we seek transparency of the content of the ballot without traceability to the voter- ie. anonymity.   Colorado clerks are telling us, ironically, that their "secret ballot" is going to protect the secrets of voters by hiding the ballots with their secrets dangerously attached - quite the opposite goal.

Senator Brophy seeks changes to the open meetings law according to the Denver Post: 
"State lawmakers expressed shock at the ruling, questioning whether voters would be able to hold their elected representatives accountable without access to full voting records. Several, including state Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, said they would work to change the open-meetings law if the ruling stands."

I welcome this proposed effort to improve upon open-meetings laws.  Colorado Clerks have been using a loophole in the law to claim privacy of their semi-annual meetings and all their deliberations even those that involve the Colorado Secretary of State, and those that are intended to produce promotion and lobbying for statewide policy. One such example is the recently revealed intention to obtain an exemption in the Colorado Open Records Act for voted ballots - those voted by the "secret ballot" method - meaning that they are supposed to be marked in secret and kept anonymous. The Colorado Constitution Article VII Section 8 specifically gives us those two instructions in the following form:

Here is the pertinent portion (bold style annotation not in original):

"All elections by the people shall be by ballot, and in case paper ballots are required to be used, no ballots shall be marked in any way whereby the ballot can be identified as the ballot of the person casting it. The election officers shall be sworn or affirmed not to inquire or disclose how any elector shall have voted. In all cases of contested election in which paper ballots are required to be used, the ballots cast may be counted and compared with the list of voters, and examined under such safeguards and regulations as may be provided by law. Nothing in this section, however, shall be construed to prevent the use of any machine or mechanical contrivance for the purpose of receiving and registering the votes cast at any election, provided that secrecy in voting is preserved."

One would prefer that the phrase "secret ballot" and "ballot secrecy" did not come up in policy debates, as it works as a confusing and often strategic frame to argue against transparency of the anonymous contents of ballots.  An "anonymous ballot" voted in private and counted in public is the goal we with our 1948 amended constitution are trying to achieve.  When you see the phrase "your ballot" or "ballot secrecy" be aware you may be subject to a fear campaign intended to simplify elections by obstructing much needed citizen oversight.

Another definition:
A method of voting that ensures that all votes are cast in secret, so that the voter is not influenced by any other individual, and at the time of voting no one else knows who the voter chose. A secret ballot can be ensured in many different ways, primarily by using enclosed voting areas, or simply a place to record your answers that is far enough away from all other voters. Secret ballots are used in virtually all United States Presidential elections, and can also be used in any other voting process where the voters may want to remain anonymous or free from outside influence.

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