Q&A: Secret ballot

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From the Daily Reporter (Greenfield):

Q: The Hancock County Board of Zoning Appeals hands out ballots to its members to vote on questions before them. The ballots are collected and the vote read, but citizens aren’t told which members voted “yes” or “no.” According to the board, the individual votes will be made available upon request the following day.

Does this comply with the Open Door Law?

A: I would argue that it is a secret ballot, which is prohibited under IC 5-14-1.5-3(b).

The intent of the Open Door Law is to allow citizens the ability to observe the governing bodies of public agencies as they make decisions during a meeting so a citizen can gauge whether individual members are acting in his or her best interests.

Requiring citizens to make a second trip to the office of the public agency and file an Access to Public Records Act request to learn how individual members voted during a public meeting doesn’t overcome the inherent secrecy of the vote as it takes place.

Contact Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, with media law questions at skey@hspa.com or (317) 624-4427.

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