The city of Aspen has an election commission again.
Aspen City Council appointed Bob Leatherman, a Republican, and Ward Hauenstein, a political independent, to the body at Monday’s meeting. Five total applicants have been interviewed since the last election commission was disbanded in November.
The election commission has historically been concerned mostly with poll watching, settling ballot-marking disputes and residency questions. But last year, after Aspen’s first election using instant runoff voting, the commission, comprised of Republican Elizabeth Milias, Democrat Chris Bryan and city clerk Kathryn Koch, became a venue for people with complaints about IRV and broader election issues to voice those issues. Bryan, an attorney, wasn’t sure of the scope of the commission’s powers and sought a third-party legal opinion on the matter, believing city in-house attorneys had a conflict of interest in advising the commission. City Council denied the request for funds.
Then, through an open records request, scores of e-mails from losing mayoral candidate Marilyn Marks to commission members came to light showing Marks’ efforts to get the commission to take up her agenda questioning the conduct of the election (the commission never took any official action). As the whole acrimonious saga played out, the city determined that the commission was not appointed in a time frame consistent with the City Charter. They were appointed in March for an unspecified term, instead of a two-year term starting in July following an election, as the charter dictates — and the commission was dismissed.
The new commission will serve through July 2011, Koch said. The new commission also represents a partial break from tradition. Historically, the two members of the commission besides the city clerk were recommended by the local political parties, with one Democrat and one Republican on the board. Leatherman came with the blessing of the Pitkin County Republicans, but Hauenstein is unaffiliated, Koch said.
The other applicants to the commission were Lauren Maytin, Vitashka Kirshen and Bob Nix.
Leatherman, in his application, wrote that “an important component of the Aspen form of city government is an election system viewed by the voting populace as being fair and effective. The Election Commission should, to the best of its abilities, see that this happens.”
Hauenstein wrote in his application that he would resist any efforts to be lobbied.
“If appointed I would strive to have all communications directed to any member copied to all members… . Any attempts to influence me with an individual or group’s own legal opinions would fall on deaf ears and would be shared with other members of the commission.”
At Monday’s council meeting, Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland said that the council had “excellent applications” to chose from and that picking two appointees was difficult.
City of Aspen special counsel Jim True said that the city would place a question — or a series of questions — on the November ballot to sort out if IRV will remain the city’s voting method. IRV, which allows voters to rank their preference of candidates and eliminates runoff elections as people’s lower choices come into play if no candidate wins an outright majority on first-choice votes, was rejected by a fraction of a percent in an advisory vote in November by city voters. True said the city may place multiple voting systems on the ballot, such as the previous system in which a runoff election was held one month after the initial vote, and the system before that in which candidates who won a plurality of the vote were elected.
Whichever system received the most support would become the city’s voting system.