Ballot inspection rule unnecessary, county clerks say

The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office is considering new election rules, one of which some county clerks say will unnecessarily add costs to their offices.

Sometime afterthe draft rules were issued on Aug. 30 and before they were altered a month later, the secretary’s office added a proposed rule that defined damaged ballots as including those that have any markings that might identify the voter.

The rule would require those ballots to be included along with all other damaged ballots, those that are ripped or crumbled to the point they won’t be properly read by counting machines.

The problem is, the new rule would require each ballot to be physically inspected by elections officials, which would delay vote tabulations and require more staff, said Mesa County Clerk Sheila Reiner.

Reiner said such marked ballots likely would be few, if any, and don’t impact the voter’s choices.

“This rule would require us to do a hand inspection of all ballots prior to putting them through the machine,” she said. “It’s also very subjective. What constitutes a mark that would show someone’s identity? A (tabulating) machine will either see a mark in the oval or it won’t.”

She said current law requires clerks to inspect each ballot for such markings only if someone files a Colorado Open Records Act request. The person or group that makes such requests is then charged for the time it takes to inspect ballots for identifying marks.

If the rule goes into place, it only would shift that cost to taxpayers and away from the records requester, Reiner said.

“This is going to waste a lot of resources,” she said. “Most elections are not CORA’ed.”

Donetta Davidson, executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association, agreed, saying it makes little sense to require clerks to do something on the off chance that someone will request to see the ballots.

“I know of no state that does anything like this,” said Davidson, a former U.S. Elections Commission member who served as Colorado secretary of state from 1999 to 2005. “This is something that is way beyond what is needed. It will take extra time and be an unnecessary cost to the counties.”

In 2011, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that ballots are documents subject to the state’s open records laws so long as they don’t identify the voters who cast them.

The office is accepting written comments until Monday about all the rule changes, most of which were required under the Voter Access and Modernization Elections Act, which was approved by the Legislature earlier this year.

That’s the controversial new law that allows for same-day voter registrations and requires all counties to use mail-in ballot and vote centers.

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