Ballot legislation is a sensible compromise
Aspen ballot activist Marilyn Marks and others who support her views have won a significant victory with Senate Bill 155, which was passed by a committee Wednesday and now heads to the Senate floor.
But they see SB 155 as a defeat for their cause, which seems to require that they have unfettered access to voted ballots whenever they want.
Marks was the plaintiff in a lawsuit in which the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled last year that ballots are subject to the Colorado Open Records Act. That means after they have been cast in an election, they must be available to be examined by the public.
However, a number of county clerks, including Mesa County’s Sheila Reiner, have said that because of other laws and policies on the books, members of the public who have access to voted ballots could use other data to determine how individuals voted. They want the state Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeals’ decision.
Late last year, Reiner and other clerks were adamant that Colorado needed legislation to exempt ballots from CORA in order to protect voter privacy.
The clerks have changed their minds since then, and SB 155 reflects that change. Rather than requiring that voted ballots be exempt from CORA rules and entirely off limits to public inspection, the bill establishes a specific process for allowing the public to examine the ballots, while mandating actions by county clerks to ensure voter anonymity.
That’s the victory for the open-ballots crowd. If SB 155 is passed by the Legislature, voted ballots would be legislatively recognized as falling under the jurisdiction of CORA, something that wasn’t the case a year ago and which county clerks opposed until recently.
The defeat, at least as some of the open-ballots folks see it, is in the fact that SB 155 sets up blackout periods before and after an election, when the clerks and their staffs are exceptionally busy. During those periods, the ballots wouldn’t be available for public inspection. That’s especially important in the aftermath of an election, when county clerks must canvass the votes and may need to perform official recounts, using those same ballots.
Sen. Rollie Heath, the Boulder Democrat who is the prime sponsor of SB 155, introduced the bill only after lengthy discussions with clerks, with open-government advocates and more.
It’s telling that the bill has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, has the backing of the county clerks and the endorsement of the Colorado Press Association, which has a lengthy history of pushing for more transparency in government.
We hope the full Senate approves SB 155, that the House does likewise and the governor signs it. That will be a victory for all Coloradans.