Election activist Marilyn Marks has filed a complaint against the Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder’s Office, saying she was improperly denied the ability to watch mail-in ballots being stuffed into envelopes and processed in an Aurora facility earlier this month.
Aspen resident Marks, who filed the complaint with the county Election Commission on Oct. 6 along with two other individuals who live outside Pitkin County, said the clerk’s office delayed certifying them as poll watchers in order to stymie their efforts to visit Integrated Voting Solutions (IVS), an Aurora vendor that Pitkin and many other counties use for mail-in ballot processing. Their requests for an official visit were eventually denied outright.
Marks, in a seven-page complaint, says observation of mail-in ballot processing is necessary because fraud or other irregularities could take place at the processing center. For example, multiple ballots could be stuffed into one envelope, some voters could be sent the wrong ballot or someone who is no longer eligible could be sent a ballot, Marks’ complaint says.
“Live ballots are almost like currency and must be properly secured and distributed strictly in accordance with the law and instructions,” the complaint says. “Numerous opportunities exist for errors, irregularities, theft, and even partisan-driven fraudulent activity. ... While there is no reason to suspect the Pitkin vendor, there is also no reason to exempt their work from oversight and correction of discrepancies.”
Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder Janice Vos Caudill said she is resistant to Marks’ request because “the law doesn’t provide for such activity” and there has never been a problem with IVS, which the county has worked with since 2007.
“If the petitioners believe that the definition of what a watcher has authority to observe should be changed or clarified, perhaps legislative or rule making would be a more appropriate course of action rather than a challenge to an administrative process,” Vos Caudill wrote in a response to Marks’ complaint, which she provided to the Election Commission.
Political parties regularly appoint poll watchers to observe the election process. Marks points to a statute that says watchers can “witness and verify each step in the conduct of the election.” Vos Caudill said the mail-in ballot processing is part of the pre-election process and not an established part of poll watchers’ oversight duties.
Marks filed her complaint after IVS processed Pitkin County’s ballots, so that ship has sailed. However, the county’s Election Commission is looking at the matter to provide guidance for the future, said Election Commission member Brooke Peterson.
The board met on Friday, and heard a presentation from both Marks and Vos Caudill. The discussion was continued until Nov. 29 so Marks could get in writing what she said was direction she received from the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office that would allow her to watch the envelope stuffing.
Marks, who was the runner up in the 2009 Aspen mayoral election, is best known locally for suing the city after it denied her request to review computer scans of ballots cast in that election. The case, which ended in a favorable ruling for Marks from the Colorado Court of Appeals, set off a debate about voter secrecy and the rights of citizens to independently review election results.
Marks has taken her election transparency case to numerous other counties throughout the state.