Denver — Boulder County Republicans and an election monitor filed suit this afternoon claiming Boulder County clerk and recorder Hillary Hall has refused to comply with election law’s transparency requirements, denying watchers reasonable access as they observe the count of mail-in ballots.
“We’ve made significant changes to the way we conduct elections in Colorado, and as a result, it’s more important than ever that poll watchers have access and the ability to do their statutorily designed job,” says Ryan Call, state chairman for the Colorado Republican party. “Hillary Hall really stands apart from every other county clerk in the state in refusing to give meaningful access for Republican poll watchers to do their job, and it’s unfortunate that we’ve had to resort to legal action to compel the clerk to let our watchers in.”
Seeking to improve voter access, Colorado’s lawmakers overhauled the election procedures two years ago, establishing a mail-in ballot system that critics say remains vulnerable to fraud. Before counting the vote, a bipartisan team of two judges examines ballots, verifying them by comparing the signature on each ballot with one in the state databases. Both judges must reject the signature for the ballot to be deemed invalid; only one judge’s approval is required for the vote to count.
Though election watchers do not determine whether a ballot is counted or not, they do have the right to observe and later challenge that decision, monitoring “each step in the conduct of the election from prior to the opening of the polls through the completion of the count and announcement of the results,” the law says.
But the lawsuit claims Hall allows watchers to view the voters’ signatures for only a few seconds, denying them “sufficient time and access to take even the most basic steps to determine whether a signature should be verified or to lodge a challenge as is their right.”
Furthermore, the suit alleges, when an election judge raises concerns about the validity of a signature, Hall has unlawfully refused to let “watchers access the necessary information to determine whether the mail signatures that have already been called into question are in fact valid signatures,” claiming it could jeopardize voters’ confidential information.
Finally, the lawsuit claims that “no election judge or watcher is even allowed to witness the receipt” of overseas or military ballots because “Clerk [Hall] has set up a system where only one employee of hers is allowed to access the computer used to receive the ballots. . . . This is particularly troublesome in that there is no way to verify that [such a ballot] has been received, accepted, and properly counted.”
A spokesperson for the Boulder County clerk and recorder said she could not yet comment on the case, as the clerk’s office continues to review the suit. The attorney for the Boulder County Republicans and election monitor Michael Davis could not be reached for comment.
As of Sunday, 1.1 million Coloradoans had already submitted their ballots, with 106,000 more Republicans casting votes than Democrats. Real Clear Politics reports that Cory Gardner, the Republican candidate for Senate, leads Mark Udall in the polls by 2.5 points on average, but the race is nonetheless considered close.
Update: A Boulder District Court judge today has denied an effort by Boulder County Republicans and an election watcher to force the county clerk into allowing more transparency in the election process. The judge justified this decision, made without a hearing, on the grounds that insufficient notice was given to the county attorney, says Michael Davis, an election watcher and plaintiff in the suit.
“It sounds to me like this judge is playing games,” Davis tells NRO. “The court must hear this, and the court is coming up with creative ways to avoid hearing this.” Davis says he and the Boulder County Republicans are still considering how they’ll proceed
The suit alleged, among other concerns, that the Boulder County clerk was unlawfully preventing election watchers from observing the signature-verification process used to approve mail-in ballots. Boulder, a liberal Colorado city, is also a college town with high resident turnover. Some election monitors say they’re concerned that mail-in ballots may consequently be fraudulently submitted after being mailed to an address with out-of-date residency information.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center.