Lawmakers prepare ballot inspection bill
DENVER — A bill that may answer the question of when and how election ballots should be open for public inspection is to be introduced into the Legislature next week.
Two Democrats and two Republicans will introduce the measure, which lays out specific timing on when ballots can be subject to the Colorado Open Records Act and how county clerks must comply with requests to view those ballots.
The issue stems from several lawsuits on the matter, including one filed this week by an Aspen woman against Mesa County Clerk Sheila Reiner.
Last year, Reiner denied an open-records request filed by Marilyn Marks, an Aspen voting integrity activist who filed a federal lawsuit against Reiner and several other county clerks, saying their election practices make it possible to trace how people voted.
Last year, Marks won a Colorado Court of Appeals decision that said election ballots are subject to the state’s open-records laws. Since then, clerks have said other state laws mandating how they are to tabulate election results could make it possible to trace ballots to specific voters.
“It’s a collaborative effort, what’s in this bill,” Reiner said. “Everybody agreed that voter secrecy needed to be protected.”
The bill, to be introduced in part by Western Slope Sen. Jean White, R-Hayden, would allow a person who files an open-records request to view the ballots, but it must be done in the presence of a county clerk worker.
That way, the clerks can guard against revealing any information that might allow someone to trace ballots to specific voters. The law already requires anyone seeking to see government documents to cover the costs of staff time to comply with an open-records request.
Reiner said it is necessary to give clerks discretion about how ballots are revealed because they use varying voting machines that track and count ballots.
She said the bill doesn’t impact current law that allows ballot watchers to view initial counts, and it doesn’t change how recounts and election audits are done.
The bill also requires the open-records request to specifically state which election the requester is seeking, further giving clerks control over what is seen and when.
“That’s pretty significant because it’s not going to be handled like, willy-nilly, like I want to look at everything,” Reiner said. “It will help us make it even more anonymous.”