Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
October 19, 2011
When I read about Marilyn Marks’ Colorado Court of Appeals victory in her effort to get a look a local election ballots, I have deeply mixed feelings.
As a news guy, I have to be in favor of anything and everything that pries more information out of the government and into the public eye.
I was (and still am) generally a fan of WikiLeaks, that “treasonous” organization that exposed a relative handful of the almost infinite lies that our government regularly tells us. (And, of course, high on the list of lies is the lie that insists that all the lies have to be kept secret.)
I can only assume that Ms. Marks is, like me, a vocal supporter of WikiLeaks. One cannot not, after all, be selective when arguing for the sacred nature of government transparency.
So, as I said, her victory would seem to be a good thing.
On the other damn hand, there’s the point that – as far as I’m concerned – Marilyn Marks is nothing but a destructive, attention-seeking drama queen with a chip on her shoulder (whom I once referred to as a “gadfly,” but who, in fact, is a disgrace to the honorable role of the true gadfly).
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For some reason, Marks seems desperate to get her name in the paper (though why anyone would consider it a major accomplishment to get her name in our little local newspapers is hard to comprehend – I do it all the time, and look where it’s gotten me).
Some would argue that Ms. Marks is driven by her consuming hatred for Mick Ireland – and, certainly, hating Mick Ireland is a respectable local avocation.
Even I, generally a supporter of Mayor Ireland, can’t keep myself from hating him from time to time. (Actually, probably more often than the phrase “from time to time” might imply.)
But, having been defeated in her political campaign to unseat Mr. Ireland (thereby proving that Aspen is not entirely inhabited by fools – though still getting enough votes to support the thesis that there are a lot of damn fools in town), Ms. Marks promptly rejiggered her attack.
Suddenly, while still clearly hating on Mayor Mick, Ms. Marks declared that her real interest was in free, fair and open elections.
I confess that my heart sank when I got an email from Ms. Marks (she used to send me little billets-doux back when I had an official position of some apparent responsibility in the local newspaper world), asking whether I thought free and fair elections were important.
I knew she didn’t really want my opinion: Marilyn Marks had found a new hobby horse to ride, and my heart sank because I knew she’d picked a good one.
I don’t say it was a “good one” because it was an issue that needed her attention – or anyone’s attention, for that matter. Our local elections have been going on just fine for as long as I can remember without anyone screeching about unfree elections or unfair elections or election fraud or stuffed ballot boxes or anything else.
What we have here are small-town politics, with all that implies: often bitter, often nasty, frequently amusing and always too small and too personal to leave room for fraud.
So Marilyn Marks launched an entirely unnecessary campaign to address a nonexistent problem.
But, as I said (and as I feared), she picked a good topic. Because how can anyone be against free and fair elections?
So here I am: conflicted.
Sticking it to the government? Often good.
Loony self-aggrandizement with the danger of causing real harm to the local community? Well, gee, how could anyone be against that?
And yet I am.
I am also conflicted about Mayor Ireland’s announced intention to take the city’s case to the Colorado Supreme Court.
I suppose it’s good to get a final definitive answer, but – again, as a news guy (see above) – I hate to see a major legal effort to restrict public access to government records.
I just hate this whole story.
In any case, this week, in accord with the appeals court decision, Ms. Marks will get to check out half a dozen ballots from the 2010 election.
I was impressed by the comments from Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder Janice Vos Caudill who wrote that her main concern is “to continue our proud legacy of honest, fair and verifiable elections in a manner that is both transparent and ensures the anonymity of ballots cast by Pitkin County electors.”
However, Vos Caudill added, “Achieving these disparate but extremely important objectives is becoming increasingly difficult, and may be completely impractical due to the unique facts and circumstances of any given future election.”
And that’s really the heart of the matter: balancing someone’s legal right to view the ballots against the community’s vital need to actually have free and fair elections.
There’s a bit of a paradox: Crusading under the banner of “free and fair elections,” Ms. Marks may get to a result that will actually damage the chances of having free and fair elections.
Not, of course, that she really cares about that.
As reported by the Aspen Daily News, Ms. Marks noted that “Pitkin County runs some of the best elections in the state.” And then declared that she will soon demand to see several hundred ballots from the last election so she could “could confirm the election results of a specific precinct, or a specific race.”
So: The elections are great, but she needs to confirm the results.
She needs to confirm the results.
Who appointed Marilyn Marks as the watchdog of our elections?
Marilyn Marks did.
Some say that elections are a report card on government.
If so, I’m afraid that our election report card has a serious problem: