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October 4, 2010
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The politics of election quality

Dear Editor:

Ward Hauenstein, election commissioner, missed a great opportunity to further a constructive dialog when he started a letter to the editor by exaggerating Marilyn Marks' intent as if she had suggested that "Aspen city elections are flawed beyond hope." Ironically it's the kind of exaggeration that Hauenstein seems to object to in Marks' letter.

It has become obvious over the past 18 months that citizen activists know that Aspen's elections can be improved. In some cases we are just trying to help Aspen recognize and hold on to the substantial improvements in transparency that were attempted here in May 2009. Who wants to see Aspen's improvements disposed of along with IRV? Rank choice voting is beneficial. IRV deserves to be retained and simply implemented better.

Citizens have been investing thousands of hours of volunteer time to try to improve the election process and its opportunities for citizen oversight and presumed checks and balances. Starting with cordial private meetings and advisory e-mails we have gradually and patiently escalated our criticisms to appropriate authorities. As if to punish us, citizens with no power have been tarred and feathered with unwarranted blame and denigration. To now see Ward, who has personally and selflessly risked his valuable time and patience on behalf of Aspen's election integrity (by generously signing up as an unpaid election commissioner), start to apply the canard straw-man argument against another election quality enthusiast is a disappointing development. I hope that his letter was substantially ghost written by someone who, unlike Ward, has a political vendetta to pursue.

Ward's letter helpfully stumbles upon a troubling fundamental truth when he says that the ex-candidate might not "feel this way" (i.e., critical of the election) if she had won. In fact, there is a strong, almost instinctive, natural tendency for winners to accept and celebrate their means of election, and it is the winners who, in Aspen, in a tribute to Catch-22, have the power to control how the election is performed in the future. The City Council appoints and might even find itself retroactively terminating members of the Election Commission. There is something wrong with this picture.

However, even though the control structure over Aspen's election is biased against criticism and reform, the situation isn't hopeless. If it were, activists like me would not waste our time speaking up.

Harvie Branscomb

El Jebel


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The Aspen Times Updated Oct 4, 2010 07:13AM Published Oct 4, 2010 03:11AM Copyright 2010 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.