EDITORIAL: Voting records are public for good reason
Author: The Gazette Editorial Board - July 17, 2017 - Updated: July 17, 2017
Ignorance of the law is no excuse, and it appears thousands of Coloradans had no idea their voting records were public.
The transparency of voting rolls became a spectacle for the first time in Colorado after President Donald Trump recently requested all 50 states turn over voting records to assist his administration’s investigation into potential voter fraud in the 2016 election. The investigation is on hold, pending a challenge in federal court.
It is odd when the winner of an election seeks to investigate the outcome. The call for open records seems more likely from the team that thinks “Russians interfered with our election.” Nothing makes much sense these days.
Trump hopes to prove he won the meaningless “popular vote,” which has no relevance in an electoral system designed to prevent the special interests of our most populous states from dictating national outcomes.
Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity might be a needless distraction, but it represents the rationale for open records laws found in all 50 states. If voting records are automatically private, we lack the transparency to ensure against widespread fraud. If Russians hack our elections, we’ll benefit from widespread public scrutiny of voting records.
Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams is sworn to uphold the law, in his role as secretary and separately as a lawyer. He is required to provide public records to anyone who wants them, without regard for motive.
If someone asks for public records, Williams has no decision to make. He either upholds the law or breaks the law.
That has not stopped Trump’s opponents, and political opportunists, from demanding Williams refuse the president’s request if the federal suit is resolved.
“We really need someone to stand up to this commission,” said Jena Griswold, a Boulder County resident and former voting rights attorney for former President Barack Obama’s campaign.
Just what we need. A secretary of state who would stand up against a request for open records. No thanks, Ms. Griswold. Respect for transparency laws protects us from corruption and fraud.
For those unfamiliar with Colorado’s open records law, it requires the secretary of state to provide limited information about registered voters to anyone who asks. That includes: full name, residential address, party affiliation and date of affiliation, phone number (if provided by the voter), gender identity, birth year, and information about whether the individual has voted in prior elections.
Here’s what’s not open to the public: Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, full dates of birth, and email addresses.
Though voting records reveal who voted in each election, voting choices are private. A Republican who voted for Hillary Clinton has no fear of a public records request revealing the decision.
Requests for voting records have been helpful. They have exposed candidates who seek our votes but have seldom or never voted. When politicians claim lifelong allegiance to a political party, voting records either uphold the claim or call it into question. In some out-of-state jurisdictions, we’ve seen vote tallies that exceed the number of registered voters. Public scrutiny keeps the system in check.
Since Trump requested records, nearly 4,000 Coloradans have objected by canceling their registrations. As the outrage mostly reflects concerns about Trump, we suspect the cancellations involve a high percentage of Democrats.
Cancellations are not necessary. Colorado residents uncomfortable with the public nature of voting have the option of requesting “confidential voter status,” by simply claiming concern that an open record may cause criminal harassment or bodily harm. Forms are available at each county’s clerk and recorder office for $5.
Trump’s crusade to prove voter fraud seems like a baseless distraction from his more laudable goals of lowering taxes and regulations and otherwise enhancing freedom and prosperity. But the ability to scrutinize public records, and the events they represent, is no less American than the right to vote.
Secretary Williams deserves bipartisan appreciation, not derision, for respecting and upholding transparency laws. Those who would defy open records requests should have no place in public office.