Marilyn Marks: Guest opinion |

Marilyn Marks: Guest opinion

Marilyn Marks
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

No matter how you voted in May, please invest a few minutes to ponder how your voice was considered on Election Day. In recent years, Aspenites have been overlooking their rights and responsibilities to oversee their local democratic process.

Wednesday’s court ruling merely repeated the city’s anachronistic position that anonymous ballots and their digital images must remain locked and later “burned, buried, or shredded,” to keep us, the owners, safe from possible “significant injury” by seeing them again. Was anyone injured by the disclosure of each image on election night, or the replay of the GrassRoots archive of hundreds of our ballot images?

Ballots voted in a Pitkin County run election, have no such lock and destroy mandates. November’s election ballots, even when they contain Aspen ballot questions, must be removed from the ballot box after the contest period and preserved. These ballots could then be available for process improvement research involving ordinary citizens studying voted ballots. In El Paso County (Colorado Springs), valuable research using hand counting was done by citizens with voted ballots from 2008. Aspen instead chose to expand the items that are sealed in its ballot box, protected from citizens’ public record requests. To date, the court agrees. Fortunately such archaic laws apply only to municipal elections.

In February 2009, Mayor Ireland said: “This process will be transparent because we will get to see all the ballots as counted.” I’m genuinely pleased that Mayor Ireland took a strong stand on transparency.

He continued, in March: “Anybody can look at how it is done to make sure that if they replicated that at home they wouldn’t get a different result.” “We’ll still use optically scanned paper ballots that you can look at later.” He promoted the open public record of the ballots, saying: “The guy who runs the ballots through the machine will be here and you can watch him do that. We can televise it.”

The council even enacted a new law requiring the ballots to be “observable” while votes were being tallied. Indeed, ballot images were televised and projected on big screens. A CD of them was burned and oddly locked away, although the quiet instruction to keep the CD from the public was given just four days before the election. Before the polls closed, I placed my request for a copy, but received no response. The city should have suggested that I bring a video camera to the tabulation center, given that it would be my only chance to copy and study the images. Authorities apparently determined that the injury risk was low from a brief encounter with our anonymous ballots flashed on the screen, but studying the details would be dangerous over-exposure.

Citizens have become concerned about compromise of the privacy of their ballot by city propaganda about a potential CD release. This is pandering to illogical fears. We learned in grade school that our ballots are anonymous for a reason. The government is not allowed to have a record of how we vote.

The city’s clear commitments clash with a harsh reality:

Promise: ballot security. Reality: early ballot box unlocked.

Promise: state certified, tested software. Reality: untested error-prone software; undisclosed last minute changes.

Promise: 10 percent hand count post-election. Reality: no hand count.

Promise: open source tabulation software. Reality: complex patchwork of proprietary and open source software.

Claim: “sign off” by the Secretary of State of a novel voting method. Reality: No documented approval.

Promise: adherence to Secretary of State rules. Reality: most rules ignored.

Claim: IRV process audit. Reality: no evidence of an IRV process audit.

Claim: 100 percent manual verification of tallies. Reality: ballots were locked away.

Promise: an empowered bi-partisan election commission with a two-plus year term. Reality: five-month appointments were ceremonial.

Promise: anyone can review the images to test the election. Reality: not unless you are willing to wage an expensive court battle.

Even more disconcerting, copies of ballot images might be missing. Election contractor TrueBallot sensibly kept at least one copy. They have privately acknowledged possessing the images, but faced with a public inquiry, the company recently claimed to have no such records. Would an election contractor destroy or lose records that were the subject of open records litigation? The court’s decision leaves us dismayed, waiting for that answer.

Our leaders have slowly taken away our rights to control our elections as we mindlessly shirked our responsibilities of oversight, assuming that the government would substitute for us.

If we don’t take action, we cannot expect much influence over city budgets, entrance to Aspen, affordable housing strategy and land use issues – all critical decisions flowing directly from the result of elections.

Please support efforts to further Aspen and Colorado’s election transparency litigation action through a tax-deductible contribution to Please mark the gift “for Aspen.”

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