Who decides what the people may know?
Returning part-time winter residents missed the mudslinging season, and will need a refresher on the subject of Aspen’s latest political fear/smear campaign. They’ll be surprised to hear that the latest issue is whether it’s permissible to ask questions about our elections. They themselves may soon be asking: What is the city hiding, and why?
• Aspen has chronic, unseen but undeniable election integrity problems. First there was Burlingame, when creators of some voter-education materials knowingly misrepresented the taxpayer burden by scores of millions. The May 2009 election was riddled with many significant, unpublicized procedural errors. Aspen passed up $1 million for marketing when election management carelessness led to canceling a ballot question midelection.
• My effort is about integrity in future elections. Although the mayor claims otherwise, I have no interest in contesting May’s election, an opportunity that ended on May 22.
• I have asked the court to protect from destruction and order the release of public election records needed to prove that citizens can verify the complex IRV tabulation process. Aspen has constructed expensive legal roadblocks at every turn. The suit asks for electronic images publicly projected on large screens on election night. The city refuses to let citizens see them again!
• Attorney Millard Zimet demonstrated that May 5 was not an anonymous ballot election as required by Colorado Constitution. Instead, voters’ ballot contents already public might be identifiable because of the way officials collected the voter information. When the election commission considered reviewing his complaint, council denied the required legal resources. The potential crime of an unconstitutional election was swept under the rug.
• Instead, council launched an illegal investigation of the two commissioners and me, on trumped-up, false allegations crafted by Jack Johnson and Mayor Ireland. I was not allowed to defend myself or even read the allegations. The council emerged from a closed-door meeting and, without warning, voted to end, presumably retroactively by four months, the term of two election commissioners, whom they had already allowed to be outrageously pilloried in public. More dirt was swept under the rug, causing further harm to citizens and their rights.
• The city is balking at a review of the circumstances of many exceptional events: 30 percent of the votes cast in an unlocked ballot box maintained at City Hall; secret and erroneous changes to tabulation software made the night before Election Day; withheld disclosure of modified election results and software problems until after the recount deadline; the failure of Torre and Johnson to win with the majority vote the charter requires; the anomaly in the IRV method which allowed Behrendt’s supporters to hurt his chances of winning when they ranked him No. 1; the city’s false press release boasting of fictitious audits and manual verifications; Diebold machine-counting discrepancies; violation of absentee voting controls; allowing voting before the law allows; and voting on photocopies of ballots. Council members claim that inspecting ballot images creates a loss of privacy, yet refuse to explain why any such illicit private information may be on the ballots to begin with, violating the state-required election system test.
Two election commissioners indicated their unwillingness to certify the election because of warning signs they noticed before the close of polls, but the city’s first follow-up was to remove them for continuing to ask questions. Citizen activists have asked council to address these issues. The response of the city was, incredibly, to investigate the individuals asking the questions, rather than investigating the election problems.
Election integrity, the fundamental building block of our society, is waved off as unimportant detail in Aspen. Look only as far as the Burlingame fiasco or the vanished $1 million of Aspen marketing funds. We have all seen the acidic attacks coming from City Hall on this subject. Why would there be any resistance to efforts to create fair and legal future elections?
City officials might consider the quote sometimes attributed to Patrick Henry, “Government is the servant of the people, and not the master of them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. We insist on remaining informed so that we may retain control over the instruments of government we have created.”
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Colorado’s Western Slope is considered a climate hot spot where temperatures are increasing faster than the global average. This warming has contributed to more than 20 years of dryness, which scientists are calling a megadrought.