Marilyn Marks: Guest opinion | AspenTimes.com

Marilyn Marks: Guest opinion

Marilyn Marks
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

“Voiding the election.” That shocking phrase was indeed e-mailed to some election commissioners and council members. Gasp! My critics assert that by merely typing three words I proved my duplicity in an effort to unseat Mick, Derek and Torre. Ridiculous!

Jack Johnson waved my e-mail with the supposedly inflammatory phrase like a smoking gun in his laborious quest to demonize my constructive efforts, and those of election activist Harvie Branscomb, to analyze procedural and technical issues with the Aspen election, and propose solutions.

After studying Millard Zimet’s complaint to the Election Commission about the non-anonymous ballot problem, another election activist sent me an e-mail describing the Colorado statute on fines and jail time for disclosing individuals’ votes, noting that officials might worry about their liability. I forwarded the e-mail to interested parties, adding that officials might also fear a court voiding the election as the Supreme Court had done in a well-known non-anonymous ballot case.

Yes, I’m guilty of typing those now-famous but apparently politically incorrect words. Yes, I thought the City Council might fear the possible court remedy for conducting a non-anonymous-ballot election. I also fear that potential. But Johnson turned that honest and well-meant e-mail subject line into a catchy chant – “Marks and the commission worked relentlessly to void the election.” It was a refrain that has mesmerized columnists and commentators who pontificate under no requirement to research facts, or even read the subject e-mail.

Johnson’s claim of “relentless work to void the election” implies that I have lied to the court when I stated, “Voiding the election is not the relief that the Plaintiff requests in this action …”

Johnson claims that I attempted to use the Election Commission in a conspiracy to interfere with Aspen’s otherwise democratic election. The fact is: The Election Commission has no funds, no independent legal representation, no clear authority, and almost never meets. Now some current and former City Council members would like to make sure that the commission is even less functional for citizen oversight of government’s management of the election. Johnson wrongly implies that strong advocacy to the bipartisan commission by a former candidate is unethical or conspiratorial. Of course it’s a candidate’s right to petition the commission for reviews and reforms.

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Johnson and some City Council members have developed a spiteful, evil impression of those who are asking questions, participating in citizen oversight, and who are seeking transparency and constructive reviews of elections. Vague allegations of “wrongdoing” and a contrived list of misdemeanors and crimes followed. Two election commissioners and probably I, along with them, are being formally “investigated” by city attorneys who clearly represent Mayor Ireland, an accuser. That council action, eerily reminiscent of Joe McCarthy, merits a separate editorial.

On Nov. 5 the city formally requested that I not communicate with any city official or staff member regarding any aspect of the May election! The city retracted this obvious trampling of my civil rights once my lawyer challenged them. That’s another major, but unheard, “back story.”

To date, I have made no effort to attempt to challenge the election outcome on any grounds. Anytime in the next 36 months any voter could initiate a claim concerning their constitutional rights to an anonymous ballot and seek the remedy of voiding the election. If that person emerges, I will wholeheartedly support their right to an anonymous ballot. Were the May 2009 election to be voided by any future action, my name will not appear on the ballot in a replacement election. I will not be a candidate in an emergency remedy. If seeking office again, I will wait until 2011.

However, I now clearly state my intention to redouble my efforts to work for fair, clean, transparent Aspen elections with maximum citizen oversight in 2011. That serves me but it also equally serves all Aspen voters.

Sadly, election reform isn’t popular. My remaining political capital might be consumed by politicized naysayers in the tough battle ahead for election transparency and procedural reform. Many critics, even elected officials, decry election quality advocacy as either “going negative” or pointless time-wasting, compared to other community problems. However, I believe deeply that it is only through democratic, fair and transparent elections that our community’s issues will ever be effectively addressed. Any defect in elections shortchanges our heritage, our rights and our community. Aspen’s disappointing reaction against efforts to achieve election quality demonstrates how unpopular this important topic is. It’s time to ask why.