Voted ballots are indeed public records open to inspection by any citizen, the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed Thursday, vindicating local resident Marilyn Marks in her three-year-old lawsuit against Aspen City Hall. The court, which in April said it would hear the case of Mark v. Koch, issued a one-page order Thursday announcing that it had reversed itself and would not review the case, meaning a Court of Appeals decision in Marks’ favor from September 2011 will stand. The city had appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court in November 2011. The brief order stated that the court’s initial decision to review the case had been “improvidently granted. Colorado elections once again belong to the people,” Marks said in a statement released Thursday. “This decision puts to rest a long-standing controversy between the public and election officials across the state who improperly prohibit the public and press from verifying Colorado’s elections.”
Marks’ attorney, Robert McGuire of Denver, said in the statement that the “welcome decision … reconfirms the vitality of the Colorado Open Records Act as a powerful tool that permits ordinary Coloradans to hold their state and local governments accountable.” Marks’ statement noted that the Court of Appeals decision allowed her to recoup attorney’s fees from the city. Each party has invested well over $100,000 on the case, she said. “I trust that the city will want to put this controversy to rest and that we can come to a reasonable settlement without controversy that would be a further waste of public funds,” Marks said in the statement.
Marks sued the city and City Clerk Kathryn Koch after the city denied an open records request to review digital copies of ballots from the 2009 municipal election. It was the city’s first and only election using instant runoff voting, where voters rank candidates in order of preference, and the information is used to simulate later runoff contests. Aspen voters later repealed instant runoff voting in favor of going back to traditional runoff elections to decide close races.