Aspen election spurs flurry of complaints
The Aspen Times
Vail, CO Colorado
ASPEN – Marilyn Marks, a 2009 Aspen mayoral candidate who has repeatedly taken the city to task for its handling of last spring’s city election, filed a 26-page complaint and 22 electronic attachments with the Aspen Election Commission on Monday.
Hers was one of five letters or complaints filed by the commission’s 5 p.m. deadline yesterday.
City Hall critic and former Election Commission member Elizabeth Milias also filed a complaint and multiple exhibits. Election activist Harvie Branscomb, former Councilman Jack Johnson and former Mayor Helen Klandurud also filed documents.
Marks’ complaint reiterated many of the concerns and allegations she has previously voiced, particularly regarding the veracity of the instant runoff voting (IRV) system the city used for the first time in its mayoral and City Council election a year ago.
“Aspen’s 2009 election suffered from a variety of administrative, legal and process problems,” wrote Marks. “This complaint includes an array of violations of applicable state and local law, as well as significant administrative issues.”
Marks also urged the commission to focus objectively on the substance of her complaint, and not attempt to judge her motivations, and she suggested remedies.
In a separate request, filed electronically with the commission on Saturday, Marks asked the body to initiate and supervise a rescanning and tabulation of the ballots from the election, in part to verify the issues she raised in the complaint filed Monday afternoon.
Marks has maintained the city never adequately audited the results of the IRV balloting, in which voters ranked their preferences among mayoral and council candidates, though she has also said she has no interest in overturning the results of the May election, when she lost at the polls to Mayor Mick Ireland. The election results have been certified and an audit now can’t affect the outcome, she contended.
City officials say 10 percent of the ballots were audited; no errors were discovered in the sampling of rechecked ballots.
Marks has also filed a lawsuit against the city, seeking release of computerized images of the ballots in order to verify the results of the voting. The city has refused to release the ballots – or the scans – citing a state statute that prohibits it. A district court judge, siding with the city, dismissed the suit; Marks has asked for its reconsideration and has promised to appeal if the reconsideration is denied.
The ballots, or ballot images, cannot be released to the Election Commission for review, either, the city attorney’s office said Monday.
The city had no comment on Marks’ complaint, City Attorney John Worcester said.
Marks has also filed an affidavit with the district attorney’s office alleging election law violations. Because various city government officials may be the subject of a criminal investigation, they have been advised not to speak on matters regarding the election, Worcester said last week. City Clerk Kathryn Koch, a member of the city’s three-member Election Commission, did not take part in a review last week of a separate complaint regarding last year’s balloting.
Commission members Bob Leatherman and Ward Hauenstein will presumably have to take up the complaints filed Monday.
Marks’ complaint raises 26 issues. The most serious, she indicated, include the alleged failure to certify and adequately test the new voting system, the failure to ensure anonymity in voting and the use of a private firm, TrueBallot Inc., to help conduct the election though its representatives were not legally qualified to do so.
She also questioned the company’s access to ballot images that have not been released to the public and which are the subject of her lawsuit.
Milias’ complaint touched on many of the same issues that Marks raised, but Milias, a former member of the Election Commission, also attacked Koch on several points.
The city clerk’s role as a voting member of the commission presents a conflict of interest, according to Milias. Among her allegations, she also claimed Koch, in her role as clerk, refused to schedule meetings that might bring her conducting of the 2009 election under scrutiny. She also claimed Koch was negligent in her role as commission chairperson for failing to inform her fellow members of their responsibilities under the state’s open records and open meetings laws – an issue that put Milias and former commission member Chris Bryan in the spotlight when Johnson requested e-mails between commission members through an open-records request.
Milias also charged that selection of the IRV methodology was an “inside job” by city officials that included incumbent candidates – Johnson among them – up for re-election.
Branscomb, of El Jebel, sent commission members a letter that said, in part, Marks’ participation as a candidate in the election is no reason to discredit her input. He called for an accurate audit of the election and citizen oversight in future elections “to achieve a reasonable amount of public confidence.”
The transparency of the election process emerged as Branscomb’s overriding theme.
Klanderud, who was not a candidate in the 2009 election, urged putting a ballot question before voters to eliminate instant runoff voting, calling the system confusing. She advocated a return to a single spring election.
“Elections should be straightforward and clear as to the outcome. IRV is not straightforward and does not provide clarity,” she wrote.
Johnson raised a series of ethics issues in his filing with the Election Commission. He claimed a former commission member (Milias) had a conflict of interest as a member of the panel, because she was also serving as Marks’ campaign treasurer.
He also questioned the obligation of commission members to report election irregularities when they observe them and to bring forward information about a pending lawsuit when they become aware of it.
“Former commissioners observed what they claimed to believe to be severe infractions of our election procedures and failed to disclose these to the public or take timely steps to resolve them,” Johnson wrote.
“Former election commissioners had knowledge of (and may have participated in) efforts to hold the city of Aspen’s election up to national ridicule for satiric effect,” he alleged.