Larimer County elections officials censor North Forty News, prevent paper from covering election

The North Forty News did its best to bring its readers a photo of voters doing their civic duty at the Larimer County polling place at River of Life Fellowship at 3161 E. County Rd. 62e in Wellington.

After entering the polling place on Nov. 4, North Forty News owner Doug Conarroe was told by election officials that, before taking pictures, he needed to produce proper credentials to prove that he was with the news media. Even though Conarroe was wearing a sweater with a North Forty News logo and presented a North Forty News business card, those were not adequate. He also presented an outdated credential issued by the Colorado Press Association, which was not considered adequate.

When contacted by phone from the Wellington polling place, Larimer County elections official Doreen Bellfy told the North Forty News that the county needed credentials to verify that Conarroe was with the media. Conarroe told her he was wearing a sweater with the newspaper’s logo and had given two different business cards showing that he owned the newspaper, plus an outdated Colorado Press Association credential.

“Anyone can print business cards,” said Bellfy, and refused to give Conarroe permission to take pictures in the polling place.

Conarroe voiced strong protest to the county clerk’s restrictive ruling, saying that any citizen should be allowed to come in the polling place to observe and photograph the process.

“This is America,” Conarroe said. “I understand that how the voter casts his or her ballot is private, and have always respected that in covering elections for almost 40 years. But this is a public facility with a public process in progress.” Conarroe left the polling place without taking pictures.

Bellfy said that the Colorado Secretary of State’s election rules, specifically rule number 8, “requires the media to inform the county clerk in advance of visiting a polling place.”

The North Forty News has reprinted the relevant portion of Rule number 8 below, which states nothing about media covering voting but does outline media policies for observing vote counting and recounting.

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8 CCR 1505-1 Rules Concerning Elections – as adopted and effective 9/10/2014

8.9
Guidelines for Member of the Media Who Observe Election Counts and Recounts (to be distributed to members of the Colorado Press Association): The Colorado State Association of County Clerks and Recorders, Colorado Broadcasters’ Association and Colorado Press Association have collaborated to develop the following guidelines and protocols for use when members of the media observe the counting or recounting of ballots. You are strongly encouraged to follow these guidelines to allow meaningful media access while not disrupting the work of county clerks to count ballots or doing anything to compromise the integrity of the election process.
1. If practical, please contact the county clerk’s office prior to coming to observe the counting of ballots. If the county clerk knows you are coming, it will be easier to accommodate your request for a place to observe the count or to interview an election official.
2. At the discretion of the county clerk, a specific viewing area for members of the media and other observers may be available. To the extent practicable, the area will have been designated with sight lines to allow you to observe and take pictures or video of the counting process. If there are insufficient sight lines for you to take the photos or video you need, the county clerk may be able to make arrangements to accommodate your needs.
3. Please observe counting procedures without disrupting the count. Please take pictures or video without the use of supplemental lighting. Do not talk to people participating in counting ballots. There may be workers who ask you not to include their images in your pictures or video. We encourage you to honor those requests if you can reasonably do so.

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