Boulder County Clerk Hillary Hall
Boulder County Clerk Hillary Hall (Camera file photo)

Election integrity activists on Monday alleged Boulder County Clerk Hillary Hall violated state law and limited their access to observe the office's receipt of absentee ballots from active military members and overseas citizens.

Boulder County officials refuted the allegations, claiming they not only acted within state statutes and the Colorado secretary of state's guidelines by not allowing close observation of incoming Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act ballots -- they did do so to protect voter privacy.

The six individuals who gathered in the reception area of Hall's office Monday included members from Citizen Center, the organization behind both the unsuccessful bid in federal court last month to block Boulder County's printing of barcoded ballots and an attempt last week to observe ballot printing.

Members of the small group said they arrived at the clerk's office to be sworn in as election watchers, see the absentee ballots and observe how county officials were processing the ballots.

The activists claim Boulder County officials overstepped a state statute on watcher rights when officials allegedly rejected some of the watcher appointments and then refused to allow the individuals behind the front counter to view the incoming absentee ballots.

"We've been pushed back and were bumped in every step of the way," said Lawrence Singer, a watcher representing the Republican Party who is not affiliated with Citizen Center.

By mid-morning, the latest locking of horns between local election watchers and county officials came to a head when Hall and the activists disagreed with each other's interpretation of the state law and engaged in a civil -- albeit tense --argument.

"We're making sure we truly understand the implications," Hall told the small crowd that had circled around her. "We have a responsibility not just to you ... but to the election as a whole."

The watchers will have the opportunity to observe the processing of the absentee ballots and other ballots when that occurs on and after Oct. 19, Hall said. Officials currently are not processing those absentee ballots, only accepting and storing them in a secured vault, she added.

Hall countered the watchers' arguments that, under state law, they have the right to "witness and verify each step in the conduct of the election," adding that the statute they referenced does not include election preparations.

"We're in a gray area of the law," Hall said. "This is where we're at right now and this is how we're processing this election; this is how we've processed every election."

During a subsequent e-mail exchange with the Boulder County attorney, Robert McGuire -- the Denver lawyer representing Citizen Center -- argued that confining the watchers to the reception area of the office violated their rights.

Hall's actions have put "the validity of Boulder County's election in jeopardy," McGuire wrote to County Attorney David Hughes.

In his reply, Hughes said that Hall believes her actions are consistent with the state statute and the secretary of state's watcher guidelines.

"She believes this is necessary for the protection of (Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act) voter privacy ... and to allow adequate office space for election staff to perform their duties," Hughes wrote. "Please note that Clerk Hall will not be processing any (Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act) ballots until Oct. 19, at which time watchers will be allowed to observe the process in the vote processing area."