Note: This is a Colorado Voter Group press release on signing of Colorado HB 12-1036 (CORA ballot transparency)
June 7, 2012
Boulder – Colorado Governor Hickenlooper has signed the controversial, two-subject HB-1036 which deals with open records and elections.
By shielding all election records, including untraceable ballots, from public inspection, the bill blocks the public from looking for election discrepancies until after election results have been certified. “After certification is too late to constructively correct any errors or fraud we may discover,” says Mary Eberle of Coloradans for Voting Integrity.
A secretive non-profit organization called Colorado County Clerks Association lobbied heavily to get the bill passed and signed into law. A band of citizens and non profit public interest groups energetically resisted the efforts of at least five professional lobbyists working for the CCCA and professional lobbyists working for other associations of officials through the legislative session.
Harvie Branscomb is an unpaid election integrity advocate from Eagle County, and a Colorado Voter Group Trustee. He followed the election part of the bill from its inception to today's signing. Branscomb spent weeks tracking the bill with frequent trips to the Capitol, and repeated attempts to communicate with legislators and public. He asked the Legislature to preserve election transparency by giving Coloradans the constitutionally mandated "secret ballot" voting method that calls for every ballot to be untraceable and available to count in public. He wound up instead working to stop a bill that hides from citizens and the press our tabulated sometimes traceable ballots but allows the clerks and other election officials to see them and "interested parties" to see and copy them.
Branscomb is disappointed and says, “Colorado elections have gone behind closed doors through increased mechanization and centralization. Digital scanning technology is just beginning to make sharing of untraceable ballots cheap and easy. This no time to shutter a window through which citizens could do their own independent count of an election contest."
Branscomb asks: "Clerks and legislators were unwilling to give us even one "Sunshine Day" to access untraceable voted ballots during the period when canvass boards are checking election quality. Why not?”
(see attached http://cfvi.us/HB1036notes)
June 1, 2012
Re: Request for Veto of HB 1036
Dear Governor Hickenlooper,
Do we have to argue about the value of putting more eyes and ears on public elections? Must we remind ourselves how sunshine laws are intended to empower citizens who wish to engage in oversight of government and industries that affect their lives?
In the area of elections citizen oversight has helped produce more accurate, accessible and secure elections.
You surely understand that the Colorado State Constitution and the Colorado Open Records Act defend the right of members of the electorate to inspect election records, including voted ballots.
CORA requests should be honored in a timely manner, not after the election has been certified, for a number of reasons: to help a candidate decide if a recount is going to be productive, to be used as evidence to justify an election contest, to identify ballots that should be added to Colorado’s upcoming risk-limiting audit, and to provide technical feedback. No member of the electorate should be excluded from reviewing untraceable tabulated ballots before election certification.
By utilizing all eyes and ears, especially those with technical backgrounds, local election officials will consistently improve election systems and improve confidence in election accuracy. HB 1036 closes those eyes and ears during the critical period of time before the election is certified.
Please veto HB 1036.
CFVI would be happy to provide you with supporting documents upon request. Don’t hesitate to contact me to discuss this further.
CFVI President, 720-352-4093
By John Tomasic
Friday, June 01, 2012 at 11:32 am
Gov. John Hickenlooper is facing a decision over House Bill 1036. His veto will protect your right as a citizen to verify results of upcoming elections.
Here's a link to communicate with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper.
Under Jurisdiction—Please Select, enter "Legislation". Then enter "Other" as the bill number, unless HB12-1036 is now showing in the list. Put "Please VETO HB12-1036 and preserve election transparency in Colorado" in the Subject line and choose "Against". It is better not to check the “consider this message to be confidential” box at the end.. Here is the pre-formatted letter if you prefer to use one as a message. Edit as you wish. Sign your name as you wish.
Dear Governor Hickenlooper,
I respectfully urge you to veto House Bill 12-1036. Although the bill makes clear, as did a recent Court of Appeals ruling, that the public has a right to view voted ballots as long as each voter's privacy with respect to the ballot is preserved, the bill's language seeks to block access for excessively long periods (and thus past the time when inspection might indicate that a recount should be undertaken). The bill's language would further interfere with verifiability by hiding or redacting ballots just before inspection instead of ensuring that all tabulated ballots are safely impossible to trace to the voter either by officials or by the public.
Only if you sign the bill, partisan elected clerks may find themselves individually deciding that while traceability of ballots is ok for tabulation and even for defined "interested parties," some information must be redacted for inspection by the general public.
Leaving such critical decisions to one person's discretion, without clear standards, oversight or a route to a remedy outside of the courts, is problematic. HB 12-1036's language promotes neither ballot anonymity nor electoral transparency. What we have now in CORA is better than the effect of HB 12-1036; the recent Court of Appeals ruling already reaffirms the basic right to inspect anonymous voted ballots.Please veto HB 12-1036. Ask next year's legislature to work for a better bill with clear standards for protecting secrecy in voting and meaningful electoral transparency.
May 15, 2012
Via hand delivery, email, and fax
The Honorable John Hickenlooper
Governor of Colorado
136 State Capitol
Denver, CO 80203-1792
RE: Request for Veto of HB12-1036
Dear Governor Hickenlooper:
HB12-1036 deserves a veto to prevent municipal and county clerks from obtaining special exemptions from open records law that make those clerks less accountable to the public in their crucial role as handlers of the public's most critical records of decision-making. The clerks are heavily lobbying for the contents of HB12-1036 though it would come at a great cost to the public interest. Legislators are uncomfortable speaking truth back to those who have considerable control over elections. As a result, almost no meaningful debate has been held over the details and side effects of this legislation. But it has numerous flaws, each of which alone merits the veto. Please consider these and do not allow the bill to become law.
CORA is a vital law that protects citizens from having their government operate in a nontransparent way. Undercutting CORA is a very serious measure and is not necessary for maintaining election transparency or ballot integrity or voter privacy.
1. There is no evidence HB12-1036 is necessary. Few records requests for anonymous voted ballots and other election records have been made and by only a handful of election-integrity advocates. The requests were mostly for purposes of gathering information about election and transparency policies that could not be obtained through simply asking questions. No request was time intensive. Some requests have been successfully and uneventfully completed; other requests were delayed or rejected and the requesters taken to court by the clerks, as allowed by existing CORA.
2. Title One statutes and existing CORA limitations already protect clerks from interference with their operations, protect voters from loss of their privacy, and protect ballots from being accessed before they are tabulated. People who are inspecting voted ballots under CORA do not see traceable or never-tabulated ballots unless the clerks have failed to follow the constitution on anonymity, the statutory requirements to protect voter intent, and the recent interpretation of the Colorado Court of Appeals that requires custodians to withhold specific identifiable ballots.
3. Citizens deserve an unfettered CORA law because we cannot predict when and how CORA will be needed to understand how election officials have treated our elections. Clerks are the ones being overseen. It is odd that we would give them a driving role in defining the contents of HB12-1036 that limit how much oversight we can have and when.
4. Existing oversight via canvass boards and watcher rules does not necessarily give the public, including campaigns, adequate access to be able to protect the election from fraud as well as error. Some clerks do not voluntarily provide credentialed officials and watchers from the campaigns adequate access to ballots so that they could recognize and repair or even report on fraud or error in eligibility and tabulation.
5. HB12-1036 eliminates the ability to verify election results from past elections for vast periods of time. An uncooperative county clerk could black out a total of 74 days per election:
• the 45 blackout days before election day from HB12-1036 plus
• the possible CORA-provided delays (3 business days for record gathering plus 7 business days if there are extenuating circumstances),
• plus at least 14 (primary) or 17 (general electi0n) days after election day.
A very small municipal election triggers the same excessively long HB12-1036 blackout of all ballots from all elections, so the CORA blackout rolls around the year in some counties.
6. For public records purposes, HB12-1036 defines “ballots” as not only paper ballots but also digital images and electronic representations of votes cast. However, many digital images and electronic representations are immune from risk of interference, aging, or degradation. Electronic versions of ballots are far more valuable and safe for use as public records, yet they are tied by HB12-1036 to that bill’s restriction of the traditional paper form. This is a step backward into the past.
7. The bill blocks all access to "internal batch reports" generated for the purpose of auditing ballots. These internal batch reports constitute a record that must be timely and publicly available in order to make the audit meaningful to the community at large without requiring additional trust of officials performing the audit.
8. HB12-1036 actually aggravates lack of clarity and inconsistency in the way ballots will be handled in counties by requiring each clerk to make a separate policy decision defining “groups of discrete individuals” and classes of marks that may be considered to create traceability of ballots.
9. Unfairly and contrary to the basic principles of CORA, HB12-1036 defines "interested parties" who will enjoy much better access to public records than the general public or press.
10. Clerks would like to claim special privileged exemptions from CORA. Given how much power and discretion they exert over a crucial function of democracy, it is arguable that they should experience more oversight than other public servants, not less. In Saguache, Pitkin, Boulder, and Eagle counties, citizen oversight of clerks and extra citizen participation—much of these efforts dependent upon CORA—have clearly led to improved election practices in those counties. Clerks with good practices have, under CORA, assisted citizens with understanding those practices, for example, the Gilpin County Clerk and Recorder.
Please also consider the faulty and egregious path that HB12-1036's legislative intent followed on its way to your desk at the Governor’s Office. Standard deliberative process was violated numerous times. Much of the resistance to the bill has arisen only in the final days of the first session when other avenues for discussion were cut off. A Governor's veto represents the public's best hope to see the short-sighted agenda of county and city election officials resisted and the public interest in election verification fully served.
Please veto HB12-1036.
Harvie Branscomb, Director, for the Board
Coloradans for Voting Integrity