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CO: Media Observers Not Welcome in Off-Site Polling?

Watchdog Wire received a report from Nancy Wenlock, who attempted to act as a Media Observer at an off-site election facility in Adams County.  Colorado permits nursing homes and other care facilities to set up polling places on site in order to facilitate voting for those who are unable to make it to the polls, or who may require assistance to fill out their ballots.  Such procedures are still required to be observed and monitored by two election judges, not of the same party, and are supposed to be open to media observation.  Mrs. Wenlock was, according to her account, denied access to the polling place, and eventually escorted from the building by the police, under threat of arrest.

As a result of this encounter, Mrs. Wenlock has filed a complaint with the Secretary of State.  The report below is edited from her original filings, which makes up the bulk of the complaint; these are links to Page 1, Page 2, and Page 3 of the actual complaint.

On Thursday, October 23, I went to the Villa At Sunny Acres (2501 E 104th Ave.) as a Media Observer for the election process taking place there on behalf of the Prairie Times.

I arrived in the afternoon at approximately 1:15-1:30. I was given directions to the Vote Center in the central building. When I got there, it was all pretty quiet.

A woman came over and I introduced myself  (first and last names) and showed her my badge and said I came as the media person to observe the election process.  I noticed that the blue tape marking the press area was quite far from anyone else in the room, and she became quite upset when I didn’t move to the tape immediately. This person’s name was Donetta Davidson [editor’s note: Davidson, who served as Colorado Secretary of State from 1999 to 2005, was hired by Adams County Clerk Karen Long as an election consultant].

She said there had been quite a lot of voting earlier on. She said there were four judges there. I saw only two judges so asked where the other judges were and she said that they were in another building to help those bed-ridden residents.  After waiting a few minutes and no voters coming in I said I’d go find the other two judges since nothing was going on here. Donetta seemed bothered by my idea.

I got to the other building, and to the small conference room where the election activity was. I introduced myself to the staff there and explained that the media have access to the election process. I then went to the doorway of that conference room and introduced myself to the first election judge who came out whose name was Celia Smith. I explained that media have access to the election process. She became very agitated, and tried to close the door so that I could not see into the room.

I stated that actually they are not allowed to close the door and that media has a right to access the election process, so the door needs to stay open. Celia Smith rushed out saying she had to “call Rusty.”  The other judge, named “Jeri,” refused to give me her last name, and blocked my view of the voter and the vote center.

One resident was wheeled in to vote in that conference room and Jeri tried to close the door again.  The person who got wheeled in sat at the near end of the table while the judge named Jeri hovered over the other resident at the far end of the table. I never did see that other resident that Jeri was attending so closely.

When Celia Smith came back in, she asked the resident at the near end if she needed help with the ballot. The woman said yes. She couldn’t see it. Celia Smith said she’d read the ballot to her and I went down the hallway so I was not even within earshot and did not hear how the resident voted. I also could not see or hear what the judge did at that point.

At no time did I walk into the room, nor did I observe any signs outside or inside it designating it as a voting place or election area.

While I was sitting out in the hallway with my notes, a woman came up and brusquely told me to leave. I introduced myself and asked her name.  She said Judith Helms, and that she had the authority to tell me to leave. I repeated that the media has a right to observe the election process and that while it may not be something they are used to, the fact remains that the media is allowed access to the election process. At that point, Donetta Davidson arrived. Judith Helms insisted again that I leave. I gathered my materials together to leave. This was at 2:30 pm.

Donetta Davidson escorted me out of the building. She said that my observing the election voting process was a violation of HIPAA, but couldn’t say what the violation was.

I drove back to the parking lot of the main building, and after some calls and my lunch break, I approached the main building.  Donetta was sitting outside on a bench, jumped up when she saw me, and warned me that the administration wouldn’t let me into the building.

I went into the Reception area to walk over to the elevator and the Receptionist called me back and asked me to wait. I said that I’m just going down to the voting area and she got rude and told me I could NOT go down there and that I had to wait in the Library across the hall. Wait for what? She didn’t answer and she couldn’t get onto the phone fast enough. Donetta Davidson was standing right there.

Everything had changed. This was the same Receptionist who had been very polite the first time I came in. Now, it seemed someone had told her to keep me away from the Vote Center.

I waited more than 12 minutes in the Library. When I finally went back into the Reception area, Donetta Davidson had left. I told the Receptionist that I needed to go to the Vote Center and she jumped up and stood in my way between me and the elevator!

Judith Helms reappeared along with a burly looking woman and they stood there. I said that I didn’t think they had the authority to stop the media from going to the election area. The Receptionist said that they DO have the authority. Judith Helms said “I DO!” very rudely. I said that the media should be welcomed to the election area and asked her, “What’s the problem?” Judith Helms looked at me and said “You are.”  There was no answering my question (which I asked politely), only attempted intimidation.

At that point a policeman in a dark blue uniform walked in. They all looked relieved and he told me to leave the premises. He said if I didn’t leave right now I’d be arrested. I walked toward the entry way and looked into the library to make sure I had all my gear. He again ordered me to leave. I said I was just looking to make sure I had everything and as I walked toward the door, he came up to me and looked at my media badge. He asked, “Do you freelance?” I said, “Yes”. Then he said something to the effect that my credentials were meaningless.  And not waiting for anything else from me, he said if  I didn’t leave right then, I’d leave in handcuffs, and that they might want to press charges. Judith Helms walked toward me and said, “Yes I think we would like to press charges.”  I walked out the door, went to my car, and left the property. This was around 3:30 PM.

This is true to the best of my recollection of today’s events. I was stunned at the treatment by the election officials and the executives of this facility. Not a single one of them welcomed the media being  an observer of the election process at their facility. I was physically blocked, verbally abused, intimidated, and threatened. The policeman never once asked me a question about my side of things. He just ordered me to leave with a threat of arrest.

I wore my badge around my neck the whole time. I never took it off until I got home. I was polite but firm when faced with intimidation. I always introduced myself.

Nancy Wenlock

Media Observer on behalf of

Prairie Times
28001 Co Rd. 178
Deer Trail, CO 80105

Categories: Elections, Must Read
Tags: , , ,


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