State Senate panel approves inspection of ballots

DENVER — A long-awaited bill addressing concerns over when and how election ballots should be subject to the state’s open-records law cleared a Senate panel Wednesday, but not without hours of testimony for and against.

The measure, SB 155, is in response to a Colorado Court of Appeals decision last year that said election ballots were subject to the Colorado Open Records Act, though numerous county clerks have since said making them open will allow anyone to find out how Coloradans voted.

The bill is designed to allow public access to the ballots and still protect voter anonymity after an election.

“This is not an easy task, because we are dealing with the essence of democracy,” said Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, who introduced the bill with Sen. Jean White, R-Hayden, and legislators from both parties in the House. “We want to make sure our elections are open, that they’re transparent and fair, and we want to make sure that the public has enough time to access it and assure themselves that all of those standards have been meet.”

Heath said all that, however, needs to be balanced with what county clerks must do to conduct an election.

To give them that time, the bill would create a “blackout” period immediately before and after Election Day that temporarily exempts ballots from open-records laws. That provision drew the most objections from several citizen groups opposing the measure, including one who has sued county clerks over the issue, Mesa County Clerk Sheila Reiner among them.

The bill allows clerks time to change how they store ballots, which they keep for about two years after an election in case of a legal challenge on election counts. Afterward, clerks must honor open-records requests as long as they can’t be tied to other public information that could make it possible to determine how someone voted.

Carbondale resident Harvey Branscomb, however, said there is no real problem to fix, but the bill creates one. He said the bill seems to be written to save county clerks from having to deal with open-records requests that could take hours or even days to fulfill.

“We need an unhindered, uncomplicated CORA,” Branscomb said. “We think that there are post-traumatic-stress situations where (the clerks) are considering the possibility of a lot of open-records requests, and they’re too concerned about it.”

The measure unanimously passed the Senate State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee and heads to the full Senate for more debate.


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