Aspen Ballots, An Issue For Us All

05/17/2013 [Most] ballots [finally] made available: Ballot images from 2009 election online for public inspection <read>

Marks, who on Thursday said she has not spent much time examining the images posted online, wondered why the city withheld 129 ballots and if officials plan to attempt to make contact with voters who cast them since it’s illegal to make distinguishing marks on a ballot.

“How did they get counted in the first place?” Marks asked. “The idea of a secret ballot is that no one — no one — should have an identifiable marking.”

One of the city’s main arguments against releasing the ballots is that it could encourage the practice of voters leaving marks on their ballots in a corrupt cash-for-votes system.

The city had previously fought disclosure of the ballot images all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case. Marks won a judgment from the Colorado Court of Appeals in September 2011, which found that the ballot images qualified as public records.

The Court of Appeals directed the City Clerk to withhold ballots that contained markings that could identify a voter, including all write-in votes.

12/28/2009: Letter to the editor: One dozen excuses <read>

Mayor Ireland just sent an intriguing e-mail to the “voting rights community” titled “Why we don’t need your help in running our elections and why a recount is not needed.” It probably wasn’t written to amuse, given the personal attacks in it, but recipients surely chuckled…

4. Election-integrity advocates are destructive nitpickers! Although the pre-election software test tabulated the candidate with the fewest votes as the winner, 15 hours was plenty of time to reconfigure the software before the polls opened…

10. The early voting ballot box at City Hall, accumulating 32 percent of the votes, was sometimes unlocked. Why audit these ballots now? Any possible mischief already happened. An audit now would be meaningless.

12/19/2009: Bev Harris makes the case for public access to ballot images <read>

Concealed vote counting systems have been deemed unconstitutional by the German high court, which ruled in March 2009 that no public election can conceal any essential step in the election from the public. The German Constitution was formed according to requirements provided by the U.S. after WW II. Principles of public sovereignty over government are embedded into our Declaration of Independence (the document which provided much of the argumentation for women’s suffrage), and are also recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights…

a precedent will be set which can alleviate some frustrations with computerized voting processes.

9/17/2009: Good news ballots will not be destroyed just yet <read>

9/1/2009 Aspen heats up.  From the RedAnt <read>

Aspen citizen Millard Zimet  filed the formal complaint  with Aspen’s Election Commission questioning whether Aspen conducted a secret ballot election in May 2009.

Reading the complaint, it seems that Mr. Zimet has a strong argument that it was not a secret election.

The post also points to a series of emails between Aspen Mayor Mick and Kathy Dopp who has articulated the inadequacies of Instant Runoff Voting as used in Aspen.


Aspen Colorado held an IRV (Instant Runoff Voting) election.  A CD was made of all the ballots.  Activists would like access to the CD to perform a post-election audit, but the city objects.  An editorial by activitst leading the charge <read>

If there is a law that actually says we the people cannot see our anonymous ballots, and if it says the permanent record of this groundbreaking and unique election in Colorado history should be destroyed, then such a law should be changed. If somehow the laws to which the City has alluded apply, we are confident that election integrity advocates will lobby to change them. The public will and we hope the City Council will understand the need to view a disk of the ballots, at any time for any reason…

The City of Aspen is trying to translate the requirement for destruction as a message about how dangerous the ballots are. These ballots are only dangerous to a small group- anyone who might fear the revelation of fraud or non-accidental error. After the write-in handwriting and any stray marks are removed or redacted, reviewing ballot images can only safeguard, not endanger voter privacy and confidence. .

Aspen wrote in its election press release: “By making the rankings and all other election data public, everyone had the opportunity to double-check the IRV tallies themselves.” We like the sound of that. Will Aspen now look for ways to hide that data from the public instead of enthusiastically joining the general trend towards more transparency in government?

Another article from the Aspen city public relations director <read>

After thorough and significant review, the city attorney has concluded that the release of the ballots, or their images, would violate state law. Colorado, along with every other state in the country, began to guarantee the secret ballot to its citizens at the end of the 19th century. Every state and almost all jurisdictions have adopted laws and rules to ensure that ballots are cast in absolute privacy and remain secret even after the election is completed.

The editorial refutes this position:

You alone might be able to recognize your own ballot from the way you have voted, if you remember the many rankings on your ballot. The protection of the anonymity of the ballot is demanded by the Colorado Constitution as the city has pointed out. If the city has counted any ballots containing identifying marks in any election, it has violated the law. Should the voters be able to learn whether this has happened? The city says you are not allowed to find out- by law. The city says trust: but don’t verify.

Our opinion:

We side completely with the activists, they are on the side of democracy, integrity, and transparency of government.  Beyond a CD ballots should be made available to the public, the actual ballots should be made available to  the public.

  • The ballots are the actual public record of the vote.  The public needs assurance that the CD matches the actual votes.
  • We believe activists are correct in their interpretation of ballot secrecy – if it is identifiable then its not a legal vote.
  • We have the same issue in Connecticut and many other states.  Here ballots must be kept under seal by law for 14 days after the election, then stored for twenty-two months (federal elections) or six months (other elections), and then destroyed.  There is no explicit opportunity in the law for the public to access the ballots.
  • Meanwhile there are indications that the ballots in Connecticut may show that the reported election results for third parties were incorrect.  That Working Families Party cross-endorsed candidates were short changed.  That the Green Party candidate for President was also short changed.  Only the ballots can say and provide satisfaction that the election was correctly reported.
  • Where laws don’t allow public review of ballots, they should be changed.

Some states provide access.  Here our hats are off to Ohio law.  It made possible the investigation by citizens of questionable results.

Update: 02/25/2010:  <read>

What can we say but “Good Grief, Aspen!”

The memorandum by the Defendant appears to seek to impair the discovery of facts in the course of the litigation.  The Defendant is arguing that the Plaintiff is attempting to contest the election outside of legal time constraints and making suggestions about that motive.  Defendant is also appears to be making the argument that benefit to the public interest is not among the possible  reasons to inspect ballot images, and that testimony by TrueBallot may show “errors and irregularities” which may be of interest, but not relevant to the case at bar. On the other hand, the possibility of learning about “errors and irregularities” does seem to me to be a reason to inspect the ballot images.

Update: 3/11/2010 – Case Dismissed – Public Cannot See the Ballots. Harvey Branscomb’s Comments <read>

Civilized society normally keeps ample records of how it makes decisions–much more so now with inexpensive digital record-keeping–allowing historians as well as the general public to help policy makers with productive improvements. Election policy too would benefit from guidance by similarly complete historical records. Instead, hundred year old laws are being interpreted to require consistent destruction of all records…

The court appears to have decided that Marilyn Marks, the plaintiff, has no viable argument, yet the court has not yet heard that argument. The judge acted only two days before a vital deposition was to be taken. This blocked a long-fought-for opportunity to obtain valuable information from the election contractor TrueBallot. That deposition would have informed the court and the public on the relationship of ballot images to the paper originals. It would have given a good indication of how beneficial to the public those images could be.

Update: 4/18/2010: Criticism of Caleb Kleppner Guest Editorial in Aspen Times Sept. 17, 2009: Aspen Election Transparency <read>

Two views of election transparency:  An OpEd, Annotated:

[Caleb Kleppner]Whether you like IRV or hate IRV, Aspen’s election was a model of transparency and verifiability, and American elections would be improved if they incorporated elements of Aspen’s election.

HB[Branscomb]>; I do not agree that Aspen was a “model” but I do agree that American elections would benefit from  more transparency and verifiability such as what Mr. Kleppner’s company provides.  For Aspen to become a model for a superior election, it is necessary to look at the details and come clean about the defects of this innovative election and to avoid making these mistakes again, whether you like or hate IRV.

Caleb Kleppner is a vice president at TrueBallot Inc., which has run elections for municipalities, labor unions, associations, state Democratic and Republican parties, and others over the past 15 years.

HB>; Harvie Branscomb is a Board Member of Coloradans for Voting Integrity, a Trustee of the Colorado Voter Group, and appointed by the Democratic Party to be Eagle County Canvass Board member.

Update 10/25/2010: Aspen Daily News: Do Away With IRV <read>


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