Aaron HedgeAspen Times WeeklyAspen, CO Colorado

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October 1, 2010
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Legal wrangling over Aspen's IRV

This story originally reported the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that ballots are not exempt from the Colorado Open Records Act. The court never ruled so. ASPEN - Over the course of the last 14 months, Aspen's May 2009 election has become the subject of several highly publicized and contentious political battles. They include complaints filed with the Aspen Election Commission and the district attorney's office that allege unethical and possibly illegal activities by city employees, as well as a lawsuit filed against the city by mayoral candidate and activist Marilyn Marks over Aspen's refusal to make the voted ballots public.The arguments are ongoing, as Marks, former Election Commissioner Elizabeth Milias, El Jebel resident Harvie Branscomb and Aspen attorney Millard Zimet have all maintained that the city's continued effort to convince the public that nothing went wrong with the election is a cover-up.Zimet's complaint claimed that, because ballots were not shuffled after the election, it would be possible for an observer to determine how a certain individual voted, which would violate the Colorado Constitution.City officials claim that determining how a person voted in the May 2009 election is impossible, but the Election Commission has enacted a rule that requires shuffling of the ballots in all future elections. The Commission is also reviewing three voluminous complaints about election procedure and the conduct of many of Aspen's top officials. The panel has no power to prosecute, but is trying to establish ways to prevent many of the alleged May 2009 missteps from happening again.The Election Commission is an independent body of three people - City Clerk Kathryn Koch, and two individuals affiliated with local political parties who, this year, were vetted and appointed by the City Council. Koch is out of town until Oct. 18, at which time the commission will schedule its next meeting.Marks' lawsuit, dismissed by District Court Judge James Boyd, is in the process of being filed with the Colorado Court of Appeals. Marks' final deadline to file is Oct. 19. She spent part of this summer filing mostly unsuccessful open records requests with counties across the state to look at their ballots. She filed requests with Weld, Denver, Delta, Gunnison, Pitkin and El Paso counties. El Paso is the only one that let her review the ballots. She believes the ballots are open records under state law.The counties argue that disclosure of the ballots would be harmful to the public.DA Martin Beeson's investigation into Marks' complaint ended in August, when he issued a statement saying the DA's office would not take action against the city. Deputy DA Tony Hershey said in an interview last week that he felt the investigation was thorough, and that the city had committed no provable crimes. When asked who had been interviewed during the probe, Hershey declined to talk in specifics, but noted that city officials were under the protection of a Denver attorney and couldn't be interviewed.The DA's office also never interviewed Marks.City spokeswoman Sally Spaulding has said in public e-mails that the DA has exonerated city officials, although Beeson's statement does not state explicitly that there was no wrongdoing.After the DA released its opinion, city attorney John Worcester and special counsel Jim True released a public response, attempting to debunk the 76 complaints filed with the Election Commission by Branscomb, Marks and Milias. The document included a cover letter that outlines seven "facts that should not be refuted." The first point says: "The May, 2009, election was the most transparent election in Aspen history, if not in the history of the entire state of Colorado."-True later said that statement is an opinion.ahedge@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Oct 5, 2010 04:45PM Published Oct 1, 2010 04:59PM Copyright 2010 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.