Images of the ballots cast in the 2009 municipal election are available for public inspection now that a four-year legal battle between City Hall and an Aspen resident has come to a close.
The city of Aspen made 2,415 ballot images available Thursday on its website, and released them to the attorney for Marilyn Marks, who sued the city for access to the ballots. There were a total of 2,544 ballots cast in the 2009 election; 129 of them have been withheld due to identifying markers that could be traced back to a voter.
Marks, who on Thursday said she has not spent much time examining the images posted online, wondered why the city withheld 129 ballots and if officials plan to attempt to make contact with voters who cast them since it’s illegal to make distinguishing marks on a ballot.
“How did they get counted in the first place?” Marks asked. “The idea of a secret ballot is that no one — no one — should have an identifiable marking.”
One of the city’s main arguments against releasing the ballots is that it could encourage the practice of voters leaving marks on their ballots in a corrupt cash-for-votes system.
The city had previously fought disclosure of the ballot images all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case. Marks won a judgment from the Colorado Court of Appeals in September 2011, which found that the ballot images qualified as public records.
The Court of Appeals directed the City Clerk to withhold ballots that contained markings that could identify a voter, including all write-in votes.
City Attorney Jim True said the ballots that had identifying markings mostly had writing on them, which included write-in votes. He said City Hall plans to do nothing with the identifiable marked ballots because officials are not assuming there was anything nefarious about them.
He did say that city officials found one error — a ballot was scanned upside down, so the string of votes that machines interpreted was incorrect.
In its legal wrangling with Marks, the city argued that releasing the ballots would be illegal under the state constitution and would harm voter confidence.
The city in 2009 conducted an election using “instant runoff voting,” where voters ranked their candidate choices on their ballots. Those rankings were used to avoid a June runoff, as people’s lower choices were plugged into a calculation that established outright winners on election night.
Marks said she eventually plans to review the images that were sent to her attorney in Denver, so she can compare the strings of votes — numeric representations of the scanned ballots, which were released shortly after the election — and what the voter actually marked on the ballot to see if the machine scanned it accurately. She argues that the election equipment used the lowest quality scanning software and was not tested adequately.
“I don’t expect to find a problem,” she said, adding she still wants to verify the results on her own. “Before I make too much noise I want to see what they actually sent.”
A link to the images can be found at www.aspenpitkin.com/Departments/Clerk/ .