A woman suing Mesa County elections officials over the release of voting records scored a major victory Thursday. In a separate suit filed against the City of Aspen a judge ruled in her favor, saying digital copies of election ballots are open to public inspection. Now she’s hopeful that ruling will come into play as the case here moves forward.
Aspen resident Marilyn Marks made a request in August to see electronic scans of ballots cast here in Mesa County during the 2010 elections. Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Sheila Reiner denied part of that request, saying the way the ballots are organized in the digital files could reveal how individual citizens voted — violating their right to ballot secrecy. In early September, Marks filed suit against the Clerk’s office for the public release of the records.
Thursday was a good day for Marks, who describes herself as an elections activist. After a two year legal battle with the City of Aspen, she’ll be granted access to digital copies of ballots there, which she says is necessary to verify fair and accurate elections.
“For a government to be legitimate, it has to have the consent of the governed,” said Marks. “We need to be able to verify our own elections, how we elect our government, in order to really be giving our consent.”
Now wrapped up in a similar legal battle with the Mesa County Clerk and Recorder’s Office, she’s hopeful for a similar result. “I’m very pleased, not just for myself and City of Aspen voters, but this case has statewide implications,” said Marks. What those implications are, though, Reiner says she’s not sure.
“We do have a meeting scheduled between myself and the County Attorney staff to review the case and see if there is any implications to the case we have,” said Reiner.
Reiner points out that cities and counties follow different election laws and says in most cases, cities aren’t required to report ballots in small, identifiable pockets like her office is.
“There is the potential that voters will not have an anonymous ballot or secret ballot in the future if something is not done about this,” said Reiner.
Marks says it’s only possible to identify a very small number of voters with the records she is requesting and that she’s told Reiner she may leave those ballots out. With Thursday’s ruling in her corner, she’s hopeful Reiner will change her position.