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Colo. voters file suit against Gessler, 6 clerks

The Associated Press

A group of Colorado voters filed a lawsuit Monday against Secretary of State Scott Gessler and six county clerks, saying they are depriving voters of the constitutional right to cast a secret ballot.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Denver, argues that practices in Boulder, Chaffee, Eagle, Jefferson, Larimer and Mesa counties allow ballots to be traced back to voters. The Denver Post reports (http://bit.ly/y3KcB8) that the lawsuit asks a judge to order the practices stopped.

In some counties, ballots might be traced through bar codes placed on ballots for auditing purposes, said Marilyn Marks, who founded Citizen Center, which filed the lawsuit. In other counties, individual votes could be figured out through the systems that are used to track ballots for auditing or through reports clerks are required by law to compile, such as the number of voters per precinct.

In a guest editorial published in the Post, Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder Pam Anderson, who is vice president of the Colorado County Clerks Association, said clerks' hands are tied because those reports are mandatory.

But the lawsuit filed Monday argues that Pitkin County has been able to comply with existing rules while still protecting voters' identities. Gessler was named as a defendant in the lawsuit because he oversees elections.

By law, ballots are sealed and stored for 25 months after an election before they are destroyed. Clerks can be held criminally liable if they disclose how a person voted.

The lawsuit comes in the wake of a Colorado Court of Appeals ruling last year that voted ballots are public records that should be made available for inspection. The ruling is being challenged in Colorado Supreme Court.

The Colorado County Clerks Association has raised concerns about the unintended consequences of the ruling, said Donetta Davidson, the association's executive director.

"Our focus is on solving this issue," she said. "Now is the time to work collaboratively, rather than litigiously, to ensure voter privacy and public transparency."

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Information from: The Denver Post, http://www.denverpost.com