Election dispute, lawsuit, squabbling continue in Aspen

If often takes a while for things to settle down in a small town after an election. But Aspenites are taking things to extremes. They’re still arguing about their recent city election— the one they held in May.

Marilyn Marks
Marilyn Marks

This year, for the first time, Aspen held an election using a new electronic voting system called Instant Runoff Voting. The intent was to put an end to costly and time-consuming runoff elections:

The council adopted IRV in response to a mandate by the majority of Aspen residents, who voted in November 2007 to eliminate runoff elections, which had required a June election if council candidates didn’t receive 45 percent plus one, and if the mayor didn’t get 50 percent, plus one of the vote in the May election.

In the new system, voters ranked candidates (in a style reminiscent of high-school crush lists) from favorite to least-favorite. An electronic system determined the winners.

But not everyone trusts the new system.

Last month, according to The Aspen Times, losing mayoral candidate Marilyn Marks filed a lawsuit against the city to force it to publicly release the ballot images from the election.

The city is fighting that lawsuit:

Earlier this month the city filed a motion to dismiss Marks’ lawsuit, arguing several points, including that people have a right to a secret ballot under the city’s home rule charter. [City attorney John] Worcester said some voters’ identities could be revealed because of unique or unintentional markings on the ballots in question.

Meanwhile, Councilman Jack Johnson made an open records request for any emails between Marks and the election commission, writes the Aspen Daily News.

Many of the e-mails between Marks and Election Commission member [Elizabeth] Milias include disparaging remarks about city staff and council, and there is a clear intent on Marks’ part to influence the agenda of the election commission. Certain e-mails, which don’t include [City Clerk Kathryn] Koch, show Milias and [Election Commission member Chris] Bryan discussing the agenda for an election commission meeting and plotting their strategies going forward.

The emails, says Johnson, show Marks lobbying a majority of the election commission and thus violate the open meetings rule— since they were done privately. Johnson has posted the emails here.

But Marks says she hasn’t done anything wrong:

“I think the election commission ought to be a body that a citizen can petition,” she said. “Not only am I denying [wrongdoing], I’m proud of how I did it … I would have advocated to any board.”

The city attorney’s office plans to provide City Council with an opinion about a possible open meetings law violation in an executive session today.

But once that’s decided, the city will have to decide what to do about its failure to follow its own charter in appointing the commission. Commission members were appointed in the wrong month—and never re-appointed in the correct month.

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