D.A. ducks out of oversight role
Ryan Summerlin August 10, 2010
Friday night’s surprise memo from D.A. Martin Beeson, ostensibly written as a personal reply to Marilyn Marks, citizen activist and whistleblower, has a valuable payload likely to be overlooked. It has been mischaracterized by some local press (“D.A.’s Office: no election violations”) and by anyone in Aspen who has been looking to interpret it as a loss for Ms. Marks.
I would recommend an attempt to read the 11 pages of confusion, but that would be torture. The D.A.’s convoluted arguments over his jurisdictional authority lie somewhere between opaque and completely illogical. The valuable message in the D.A.’s memo is not that “no problems were present in the May 5 election.” You won’t find that implied in the memo. You won’t read “no violations” or “allegations denied” either. In fact, you will find numerous references to possible violations.
Premature stories may have excitedly reported a sweep: D.A. 25, Marilyn 0. The real score brought to you by your D.A. is a significant loss for all citizens. The Beeson memo tells us shocking news: Various seemingly applicable laws and election rules comfortingly mentioned in the Aspen code are seen by our authorities as unenforceable. To paraphrase the D.A. opinion – the election regulations are toothless. The remaining and only potentially effective tool available to Aspen citizens to reform problematic election procedures involves a prohibitive expense not even a wealthy citizen would like to pursue: civil litigation in face of assured personal harassment and likely retribution. Marilyn Marks has already tried out for this role and every reader here ought to know by now how well that worked for her.
Beeson the D.A. has confirmed that citizen oversight is provably ineffective in Aspen. It may also have become politically unacceptable. We now know that absolutely none of the legislated checks and balances, nor the remedies we might have learned about in our childhood civics classes, function to bring improvements to our elections. Despite the law’s clear direction to take our election complaints to the D.A., Beeson is shooing us away from his office. He is directing citizens like Marks toward the reconstituted election commission that, if we are lucky, might not be influenced by its appointing authority – the Aspen City Council. This group includes candidates who were elected in the previous known-to-be-flawed election or stand to be re-elected in the next one. We know that neither the D.A. nor Secretary of State will protect Aspen’s election, and that Aspen’s City Council and its staff are inherently conflicted and distracted by their roles.
Those of you who celebrate “Marilyn’s latest defeat” may want to ask who will be protecting your right to be sure of the effect of your vote in the next election.