Ballot bill becomes law
Late last week, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law House Bill 1036 that, among other things, establishes new rules for how and when ballots may be examined, especially in the weeks surrounding an election.
We realize this amounts to inside baseball for most voters, legislation that is mostly of concern to county clerks, political-party operatives and a handfull of others. But it is important, nonetheless.
As Hickenlooper put it in his signing message: “The approaching 2012 general election could be the largest in Colorado’s history, and with our position in the national spotlight, we must ensure the integrity of the election process. This bill clarifies the security and chain of custody for ballots throughout the election season, making certain our elections are properly administered.”
That part of HB 1036 is a compromise that was hammered out among Colorado’s county clerks, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers and others. It is a sensible means of providing public access to voted ballots while protecting election integrity.
Previously, there was disagreement over whether voted ballots were covered under the Colorado Open Records Act. Many clerks believed the ballots were exempt from CORA, but a Colorado Court of Appeal decision last year held that they are public documents and must be available for public inspection under CORA.
County clerks initially sought legislation to make the voted ballots exempt, fearing that voter anonymity could be jeopardized. But, in meetings with the bill’s sponsor and various interested groups, they eventually agreed to the compromise that lists voted ballots as public documents under CORA. However, the law exempts them from public inspection in the weeks immediately preceeding an election and for a period of time after an election, when vote canvassing and potential recounts may occur. There are also provisions in the bill to protect voters from being identified through their ballots.
Unfortunately, due to last-minute legislative gamesmanship, the ballot provisions were grafted onto another piece of legislation about which we are less enthusiastic. This part of HB 1036 makes it more difficult for the public to have access to documents and records related to noncriminal investigations of public officials and it was supported by the heads of a number of state agencies.
However, we are concerned that it makes it more difficult to obtain information about public officials who may be fired or disciplined for administrative reasons, although the final version of the bill is less problematic than the original.
That question aside, the ballot provisions are necessary and timely. With the primary election coming up later this month, and the important general election less than five months away, we understand the urgency that county clerks felt to get the rules under which they operate clarified. Hickenlooper’s signing of HB 1036 does just that.