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Saguache, CO Ballot Dispute: New Clerk, But Same Old Controversy

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[Image of Saguache ballots by Aaron Ontiveroz, Denver Post]

On January 24 Saguache County, CO voters overwhelmingly recalled County Clerk Melinda Myers. Myers had been under fire ever since presiding over a hotly-disputed 2010 election in which preliminary results - which showed some candidates, including Myers' GOP opponent, leading - were ultimately reversed due to reported machine problems and other errors. Although a grand jury found no evidence of criminal conduct, the 2010 election led to a long-running battle involving Myers, local activists, election officials and the courts about whether and how to allow scrutiny of voted ballots in the name of transparency.

Those battles do not end with Myers' recall. Myers' successor - Carla Gomez, the candidate who won, then lost the 2010 election - is now in charge of an office whose conduct has sparked a legislative battle between Colorado clerks and activists about access to voted ballots.

In addition, Saguache's 2010 election will be the subject of a hearing on formal complaint filed in April 2011 with the Secretary of State's Office under the Help America Vote Act. On February 2, 2012, the District Court for the City and County of Denver issued an order requiring the Secretary to hear a Saguache-related HAVA complaint. The Secretary declined and dismissed the complaint on standing grounds, arguing that the complainant, Aspen's Marilyn Marks, had not been "personally aggrieved" by the Saguache controversy. The district court's order establishes that Marks is entitled to a hearing on her complaint and the Secretary of State will be required to hold one.

It's not that the Secretary's office isn't interested in the Saguache election; indeed, another court order last August established the right of the Secretary's office to see and review the ballots in the disputed 2010 vote. Indeed, it will be interesting to see how the Secretary reconciles its interest in the Saguache ballots with its resistance to hearing the HAVA complaint.

Moreover, the hearing is likely to become yet another front in the legislative battle between Colorado election officials, who strenuously insist that access to voted ballots will compromise voter privacy, and activists who believe that a review of voted ballots is the best way to insure transparency and guarantee that the election system is working properly.

In short, Colorado's election administration Mile High Melee continues ... stay tuned.

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