Controversy grows as Hall denies excluding ballot activists from printer

Ray Smith of IVS denies Ralph Shnelvar and Mary Eberle entry.
Photo by Joel Dyer

Boulder County Clerk and Recorder Hillary Hall is sticking by her story that it was the printing facility, not her office, that refused to grant activists access to the local ballot-printing operation last week.

But that claim is curious, at best, since Hall denied, in writing, similar requests to visit the printer submitted by election reform advocate Marilyn Marks and Boulder Weekly the day before.

Russ Boehm, one of the two Republicans appointed to the rogue canvass board that has been meeting in recent weeks (see story at left), says he contacted the county’s print vendor, Integrated Voting Solutions (IVS), the afternoon of Sept. 28, identified himself as the canvass board’s chair, and asked if he and some election “watchers” could observe the printing process. Boehm says he was told by IVS executive Eric Kozlowski that such a visit was not only permissible, but that the facility has a dedicated viewing area equipped with video monitors for that very purpose. Boehm says he was referred to staff at the Aurora IVS facility, one of whom confirmed their visit for the morning of Sept. 29, then called back 12 minutes later, with what Boehm described as a “shaken” voice, to say that any visits would have to be arranged by — and with the permission of — the county clerk and recorder’s office.

Also on Sept. 28, Marks, an Aspen resident who heads the Citizen Center and has spearheaded legal efforts to prevent ballots from being traced back to voters, was unsuccessful in her effort to become a “watcher” for the printing process.

Hall denied Marks’ request to view the production and shuffling of the ballots, saying via email that according to state law, a watcher’s duties don’t begin until the voting process, when early voting begins, or when election workers are setting up polling facilities and equipment, for instance.

“As a practical matter, including observers in pre-election preparation puts undue strain on the resources of my office,” Hall continued. “Such a process requires coordination between the observers, my staff, and our third party print vendor. In addition, observers oftentimes attempt to engage my staff by asking numerous questions or, in some cases, making demands. Nonetheless, I understand that you have a strong personal interest in Boulder County’s process. You are therefore welcome to observe the videotapes of the printing and shuffling process once it is completed.”

Similarly, BW submitted a written request to Hall that afternoon asking to serve as media observers during the ballot printing. In declining the request, she cited security and space concerns, despite the facility’s dedicated viewing area. “We will be working in a secure area,” she wrote. “Ballots are being printed for 10 counties and the space is tight. As part of our procedures, we will be videotaping the process. If you would like to see the tape, please let me know.”

Sure enough, election integrity activist Ralph Shnelvar and canvass board member Mary Eberle, along with BW Editor Joel Dyer, were turned away when they got to the facility the next day. IVS employee Ray Smith told them they could enter the facility only if it was arranged by the county. Shnelvar and Eberle asked Smith to secure permission for entry from the county officials who were inside the facility. They also asked him to deliver a written open records request to those officials, but he refused. County officials did not respond to text messages and calls to their cell phones that morning either.

Hall told BW that she was present that morning, but left the facility at 9:15 a.m., about 45 minutes before the activists arrived. She confirmed that her election coordinator, Molly Tayer, was among the seven other staffers from her office at the plant that day. Shnelvar texted Tayer directly telling her that he was at the IVS facility’s door, but to no avail.

When contacted by BW this week, Smith initially said “no one turned them away,” then clarified that the plant’s protocol is that visits have to be arranged by the clerk’s office in advance. He said he did not have any discussions with the county staff who were present that day regarding their uninvited visitors. Smith also said the IVS video room is not intended to be used as an observation room, contradicting what IVS executive Kozlowski said earlier regarding the room.

According to the IVS website, while their facilities are secure and monitored, “IVS maintains an open door policy for customer counties during the ballot printing and mailing of election materials.” In addition, the county’s contract with IVS states that “authorized governmental representatives” will have “access to the Contractor’s facilities, books, records, accounts and any other relevant sources of information.”

When asked Tuesday why she would have told the Camera this week that the decision to not admit observers was made by the printing facility, not her office, Hall said, “Ultimately, there is no legal reason why they had to allow them in, and they, ultimately, were the ones who refused to let them in. … My direction was that this is not required by law, and we’ll go with what we’ve discussed previously. And [IVS staff] have previously discussed that they don’t want observers in there; they’re not set up for it.”

In response to a question about the dedicated observation area described by the IVS executive, Hall says she knows of only one time when a space resembling a “break room” was set up by IVS for monitoring because it was required during a lawsuit.

She also says members of the public aren’t allowed into the printing facility because there are security concerns related to maintaining the integrity of the chain of custody of the ballots, especially when 10 counties’ ballots are being printed at the same facility.

When asked why Boehm was initially welcomed into the facility with open arms, then barred, presumably after IVS staff talked to county officials, Hall accused the activists of impersonating county staff.

“They misrepresented themselves as being employees of my office, and once IVS realized they were not employees of my office, they were, needless to say, upset,” she told BW.

But Boehm says he simply identified himself as chair of the county canvass board.

“I wasn’t in on the phone call, all I can say is what I’ve been told after the fact,” Hall says.

It still begs this question: If IVS’s Kozlowski thought he was speaking to a county employee, why would he have offered a visit to the facility’s observation room, knowing full well that county employees would have full access to the entire printing operation on the plant floor? The observation room would presumably be used by visitors other than county employees.

Could it be that since Hall does not yet recognize the existence of the canvass board, Boehm might be seen as impersonating one of its members?

“My understanding is they were evasive on that,” Hall says. “IVS was led to believe they were part of the employee team.”

She does acknowledge, however, that she was opposed to letting the activists into the printing facility.

“I would not let them in either,” she says, “so if that’s where you’d like to come from, I am in alignment with what the facility decided.

“The duties of the watcher,” she continued, “are specifically spelled out, and if this was one of the processes that was intended to be watched, then why wasn’t it listed with the ones that are?” Hall did leave the door open to policy changes — just not during the implementation phase of an election.

“This is a legislative conversation,” she told BW. “It is an issue we will need to revisit as we continue to vote by mail.”

On Wednesday, Hall emailed BW the following statement: “IVS doesn’t allow unauthorized people into their warehouse. We only authorized staff to go into the building, which is in line with the law. I take full responsibility for the decisions made that day.”

Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert says some clerks have allowed watchers to observe the printing of ballots, although it depends on the print vendor. “It’s not something they have to do,” she says.

In this case, IVS was willing, but only with Hall’s permission.