Boulder, Colo. – In liberal Boulder, controversy broke out at the ballot box today as Colorado secretary of state Scott Gessler visited, criticizing County Clerk Hillary Hall for her stringent restrictions on election watchers.
“We’ve had a lot of problems in the county here,” Gessler told reporters after a closed-door meeting with Hall. “At the moment, the county is not allowing election watchers to review the signatures in the secondary signature review process,” used to verify mail-in ballots. “Unfortunately, there is a real sense of distrust here in Boulder County. My concern is there has been discrimination against Republicans.”
Election watchers Michael Davis and Marilyn Marks tell me that after Gessler’s visit, as they did an interview with the media criticizing Hall’s lack of transparency, employees of the clerk’s office loitered nearby, recording it and telling them they planned to “report back” to Hall.
A spokesperson for the City Clerk declined to take questions from National Review Online this afternoon, instead sending us an e-mail statement from Hall.
“Today, the Secretary of State notified the press, but not my office, that he was paying our office a visit,” Hall wrote. “He stood outside of our Boulder County office making a number of erroneous claims. My job today is to ensure a fair and smooth election, so I am trying to stay focused on the job at hand. . . . The Secretary of State’s office had reviewed our election processing numerous times and had no issue with Boulder County election processes to date.”
Hall’s restricted access for election watchers was also the subject of a short-lived lawsuit yesterday by Davis and the Boulder County Republicans, which a judge denied without a hearing.
During my visit to the election center a couple hours after Gessler had left, the clerk had amended practices, allowing watchers to better monitor the signature-verification process. But Davis tells me the clerk’s office has sent “minders” to trail the watchers as they observed the process, and he’s still not satisfied that he has sufficient access.
Nonetheless, I wasn’t allowed to view the vote-counting process until a spokesperson for the clerk could take me around. Red-taped lines delineated clear areas limiting how close-up the media could observe the process. And access was much more limited than at the election center I viewed yesterday in downtown Denver.
“Here’s the big issue,” Davis tells me. “Watchers’ responsibility is to make sure it’s a fair and accurate election. But the way it’s being administered, I cannot verify to the public that it is a fair and accurate election. . . . When you’re pushing so hard to keep us out, that is a problem. It raises suspicions unnecessarily.”
Harvie Branscomb, a long-haired, Green Party–affiliated watcher who describes himself as “too liberal to be a Democrat,” tells me he’s also concerned about the lack of access.
“Transparency is more problematic here in Boulder than anywhere else I’ve seen,” Branscomb says.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center.