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Contested ballots

Court hearing on Boulder County voter privacy continues today

By Ryan Morgan, Boulder Daily Camera Staff Writer
October 26, 2004

An attorney representing several Boulder County voters said during a court hearing Monday that if the county doesn't change its ballots before next Tuesday's election, voters won't be sure their choices are really secret.

The hearing, in front of District Judge Morris Sandstead, will continue today at the Boulder County Justice Center.

The ballots the county plans to use are marked with individual serial numbers. The plaintiffs' attorney, Robert Corry, said that violates the Colorado Constitution, which says "no ballots shall be marked in any way whereby the ballot can be identified as the ballot of the person casting it."

Those numbers aren't matched up with individual voter names in any registry or record.

But Corry said mischievous or malicious poll workers could easily memorize the six-digit number printed on the ballot handed to a voter. That same worker could then watch for an electronic image of that ballot as it's counted, and know how the individual voted.

"The ballots have to be looked at by human eyes," Corry said. "It's possible that people who look at that ballot can identify it by the serial number."

Linda Salas, the county's clerk and recorder, testified that it would be theoretically possible for a poll worker to compromise a secret ballot, but she said it would be difficult to do. Election workers don't know which jobs they'll be assigned until Election Day, Salas said, and would-be troublemakers might find themselves doing work not even involving ballots.

The chances of a poll worker stationing themselves by the right ballot-scanner — there are eight of them — are low, she said. After election night, access to the ballots is limited and tightly restricted, Salas said.

"It would be almost an impossibility for them to be in the right place at the right time," she said.

The plaintiffs are asking Sandstead either to order the county to print up new ballots before Election Day, or to let them instruct voters to cross out their serial numbers. The voting machines manufactured by Louisville-based Hart-InterCivic would spit those ballots out, forcing election workers to duplicate the voting results on new ballots. Although those votes would still be counted, Salas said, it would be a disaster.

"If we had thousands of voters who did that, we would never get the votes counted," Salas said, adding that it would take weeks to deliver election results.

Sandstead often seemed sympathetic to county election officials. At one point, he asked hypothetically about whether "thousands of monkeys in a room with thousands of typewriters could come up with Hamlet" — a reference to the limited scenarios under which serial numbers could be shared.

But Corry said he's hopeful his group will win a favorable ruling today.

"We got the government's witness to admit that there is a way to identify voters to their ballots," he said.

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