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CORA black-out bill goes to senate

Posted: Friday, Mar 23rd, 2012

DENVER — Despite concerns voiced by election activists, a Senate committee passed a bi-partisan bill last Wednesday that will black out Colorado elections, preventing reporters and concerned citizens from viewing voted ballots and election records during the two–month election cycle.

Saguache County residents Lisa Cyriacks and Teresa Benns testified against passage of the bill at the hearing, conducted by the Senate’s State Veterans & Military Affairs Committee.

Election integrity activists Marilyn Marks of Pitkin County, Harvie Branscomb of Eagle County, Joe Richey and Mary Eberle of Boulder County, Kathleen Curry of Gunnison County and others also testified against the bill.

State Senator Rollie Heath, sponsor of the bill, opened the hearing by explaining that HB 155 would “allow clerks to do their job by staying CORA during the certification and recount period.” Ballots could be reviewed once the election is certified.

Sen. White, co-sponsor of the bill commented, “We need to protect anonymity. The coming election is very important and Colorado will be in the spotlight.”

Because this is an election year, the bill should be passed in timely fashion, she indicated.

Sec. of State Scott Gessler said he supported the bill because it would protect the need for anonymity and prevent Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) cases from clogging the courts.

While Colorado county clerks and others insisted the bill is necessary to guarantee anonymity, opponents argue that the way to do this is not to enact a CORA blackout but to limit ballot styles, issue ballots without traceable electronic markings and shuffle ballots regularly.

Election integrity advocate Marks noted that the language “interested parties” in the bill is discriminatory and likely unconstitutional.

She pointed out that the “interested party” restrictions “disenfranchise many of the formerly involved recount participants under Rule 14,” which currently allows members of the press to inspect ballots. The bill as proposed would not include the press as “interested parties.”

While some reports portray the bill as a step forward in protecting voter anonymity, others point out that this is not the case. County clerks and recorders, they say, are the ones who really benefit from the bill, and have lobbied for its introduction to avoid the extra work involved in answering CORA requests. Ultimately the fate of Colorado ballots will now rest with the clerks should the bill pass.

HB 155 now heads to the full Senate for further debate.

Colorado scores a D+

on integrity report card

Not unrelated to HB 155 is the recent integrity report card for all 50 states, ranking each state on transparency issues. Colorado’s overall ranking was 67 percent out of 50, amounting to a D+. The state earned an F for public access to information, also for ethics enforcement agencies, state pension fund management and state insurance commissions.

State integrity investigators cited Sec. of State Scott Gessler for contributing to the dismal D rating with his proposal to rewrite Colorado’s campaign finance rules, which many critics said would allow those with big money to unfairly predominate in elections. Gessler said the rule should be enacted quickly because it is an election year, a reason similar to the one offered by Sen. White in moving forward quickly with HB 155.

But a state judge ruled that Gessler had exceeded his authority and quashed the proposed rules, suggesting that it was essentially an attempt on Gessler’s part to override the Colorado Constitution.

Not a single state earned an A grade in the year-long investigation, according to the new survey from The Center for Public Integrity in Washington, DC. Half the states earned D’s or F’s. The survey determined that because of its low scores, Colorado is especially vulnerable to corruption.

For more information on Colorado's scores visit http://www.stateintegrity.org/

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