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Home / Articles / News / News /  Election activist claims she’s broken Boulder’s ballot code
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Wednesday, September 19,2012

Election activist claims she’s broken Boulder’s ballot code

By Jefferson Dodge

The election reform advocate who has been blowing the whistle on ballots that can be traced back to voters is claiming that she “broke the code” to Boulder County’s ballot-numbering system last week.

But Boulder County Clerk and Recorder Hillary Hall submitted a new, more complex vote-counting process to Secretary of State Scott Gessler this week, and that may make the discovery moot.

Marilyn Marks, who filed suit against Gessler and several Colorado counties after it was revealed that ballots could be traced back to voters in Chaffee County, told Boulder Weekly that she figured out how to track voter identities using Boulder County’s system of serial numbers and bar codes, an approach that she says violates state law.

The state Constitution says “no ballots shall be marked in any way whereby the ballots can be identified as the ballot of the person casting it.” In response to the Chaffee County discovery, Gessler issued an emergency rule saying counties must stop using numbers on ballots.

Marks claims that she and her group, the Citizen Center, figured out the numbering system used by Hall’s office over the weekend of Sept. 15-16 and were able to successfully trace ballots back to voters.

“It’s something like a third-grader would make up,” she said of Boulder County’s process. “It’s an insultingly stupid system.”

On her attorney’s advice, she declined to give specifics about the number system previously used by Hall’s office, but that information is expected to be disclosed at a court hearing on Friday, Sept. 21.

Marks acknowledges that the Sept. 17 memo Hall sent to the secretary of state’s office outlines a much more complex system, one that she has not yet been able to comprehend completely.

In a letter accompanying that memo, Hall wrote to Gessler, “Although no voted Boulder County ballot has ever been traced to a voter, anonymity concerns have nonetheless been raised by the voting public as a result of processes used by other counties. Like you, I believe it is important to implement precautions that ensure voter anonymity.”

She adds in the letter that her system adheres to the intent of Gessler’s emergency rule.

“I hope you will agree that Boulder County’s process complies or substantially complies with those requirements,” Hall wrote.

The memo itself outlines her office’s use of randomization, repeating numbers and shuffling processes, which she says ensures that ballots can’t be traced back to individual voters.

Hall told BW that she was aware of Marks’ claim, but she has no details on how she may have traced ballots and agrees that it’s a moot point now, considering the improvements that her office has made.

“Even if she did ‘crack the code,’ whatever exactly that means, our process we’re putting in place for the general election, whatever they used from our previous elections is not relevant because we are continuing to improve our processes,” she says. “There is physical, manual shuffling of the ballots before they go into the envelopes, so no one has any idea what number went into what envelopes.”

Hall says the improvements are not an acknowledgement that the process was flawed in the past, they are just additional measures to ensure confidentiality now that ballots have been declared open records.

“I think the issue is already addressed, so we haven’t spent a ton of time looking at it,” she says of Marks’ purported discovery. “True or not true, I think the processes we’re adding address any of the issues they may have found with previous elections.”

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