-Aspen's historic May 5, 2009 IRV election audited as single ballots- 5/5/09 Aspen CO held an instant runoff election (IRV) for mayor and 2 council members. Interpreted contents of each ballot, scanned by True Ballot, were publicly released. Open records requests for a CD of image scans were denied. Aspen has been sued to protect records from destruction and to allow inspection of the scanned ballot files. A Court of Appeals ruling holds that unidentifiable ballots are public records.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Response to Mike LaBonte

Mike LaBonte
I have posted and attempted to answer the questions you posed on this blog, although better answers might come from the Aspen city attorneys, (if they choose to answer).

You have dipped your toe into a nasty but tiny swarm of anonymous bloggers who have done little or nothing to discuss public policy and a lot to attempt to discredit, without any decent justification, good people in Aspen pursuing actual transparency of elections and election reform where needed. Jack Johnson has personally succeeded in initiating a smear campaign which seems to have inappropriately resulted in removal of the two citizen members of the Election Commission (the third being the Clerk, who remains as Chair) without any due process.  This is a dangerous result and a terrible precedent for any kind of citizen oversight for the future.

2005-2009 Links to media- discussion of ballot release and election review

There are so many links in media to this topic I have archived the 2009 activity here and started a new list for 2010. [H. Branscomb]

2010 links to media coverage are here:  http://aspenelectionreview.blogspot.com/2010/01/2010-links-to-media-coverage-of-aspen.html

The two Aspen Colorado papers and three state-wide and several national blogs have been covering the topic of the Aspen May 5 IRV election and the upcoming Aspen Election Independent Review and numerous letters to editor. Here is a perhaps not complete collection of them:

12/15/09: ASPEN ELECTION NOT OUT OF CONTROL (satirical video)

Black BoxVoting.org

Huffington Post:
11/23/09: Guest Opinion: Marilyn Marks http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wires/2009/11/23/guest-opinion-marilyn-mar_ws_367225.html

Colorado Independent:
11/23/09: Election dispute, lawsuit, squabbling continue in Aspen http://coloradoindependent.com/42856/election-dispute-lawsuit-squabbling-continue-in-aspen

1/1/2010: Aspen Daily News:  Year in Review, item #9:
9. Aspen’s election and subsequent fallout

Almost eight months after Aspen’s last municipal election, city officials complain about the amount of time still taken up by election-related issues, and losing mayoral candidate Marilyn Marks is soliciting donations from around the country to fund her lawsuit against the city.

The basics of the situation are this: The city in May held its first election using instant runoff voting, a controversial method in which voters rank their choices. In IRV, if no candidate gets enough votes to win in the first count, lower-ranking candidates are eliminated and their votes are redistributed using voters’ ranked preference, so that government agencies can conduct elections without having to go to a later runoff round. Using this method, Ireland was re-elected and Derek Johnson and Torre won council seats. Voters also rejected a proposal for the Aspen Art Museum to buy public land for a new facility.

Even before the election, Marks, who is no fan of IRV, tried to stop the method from being used. After the election was conducted, Marks raised questions about voting procedures used during the election, and requested to see photographic images of the physical ballots cast. The images would be used to cross-check one of the two voting machines used in City Hall. The city claims that releasing the ballot images would be unconstitutional and Marks sued. The case is pending.

Meanwhile, the city’s official Election Commission, which in the past functioned mostly on election night to resolve voter intent and eligibility questions, was targeted as a forum for Marks and others to pursue their goal of a broader election review. The commission requested funds for its own attorney, with two of the three members saying they couldn’t rely on the advice of the city attorney’s office because of a perceived conflict of interest since city attorneys helped design IRV.

Then, former city Councilman Jack Johnson, who was voted out of office in the May election, read through election commissioner e-mails, which showed a few meetings between two of three election commissioners that were not conducted using a public meeting process, as well as heavy lobbying by Marks for the commission to use its yet-undefined powers to analyze the pros and cons of the May election.

In the drama that followed, the city determined that the current Election Commission was in violation of the City Charter because the commissioners’ terms technically ended in July. The commission was disbanded and the city is currently seeking to form a new Election Commission.
— Curtis Wackerle
[full article here: http://www.aspendailynews.com/section/home/138557 ]

Below the break are:
Aspen Public Radio (KAJX):  6 radio programs
Aspen Times: 48 articles or editorials or columns or letters to editor
Aspen Daily News: 40 articles or editorials or columns or letters to editor
and others.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Election Transparency Litigation: Marks v. Koch

Marilyn Marks filed a complaint in District Court to cause the City of Aspen to protect and allow inspection of the digital images of ballots from the May 5 2009 municipal election which were stored on a CD by the contractor who tabulated the election, True Ballot, Inc.  The suit has already been successful in protecting the CD from destruction.  The suit has the remaining purpose to obtain access to inspect these public records of which all were displayed to the public on May 5 2009, and hundreds are still available for viewing as part of a GrassRootsTV program from election night.  If the City's motion to dismiss is not accepted by the court, there is a court date set for January 22, 2010 when a hearing may be taking place.

7 Documents and 5 exhibits are on-line in hypertext form. Click on a link to open the outline of the documents, then click again to enter the document:


Friday, December 25, 2009

Elizabeth Milias' lawyer responds to complaints against her


1624 Market Street, Suite 202
Denver, Colorado 80202
December 24, 2009

Mr. John P. Worcester
City Attorney
City Hall
130 S. Galena Street, 2nd Floor
Aspen, CO 81611


RE: My Letter of November 20, 2009, Discussing City Council’s Violations of Due Process

Dear Mr. Worcester:

I refer to certain allegations made by Mr. Jack Johnson in his complaint submitted to Aspen City
Council on or about October 26, 2009, and to my letter of November 20, 2009, regarding the same.

To date, neither I nor my client, Ms. Elizabeth Milias, has received any response from your office
answering the constitutional due process concerns that I raised in connection with the Council’s
handling of Mr. Johnson’s complaint.

Although Council wisely chose on November 23 not to conduct its promised public rumination of
Mr. Johnson’s allegations outside of the appropriate legal process for handling complaints against
City officials, the City’s subsequent failure to make any public statement disposing of Mr. Johnson’s
allegations has had the troubling effect of leaving Ms. Milias under a cloud of unresolved accusation.

KAJX Covers Better Bad News' Lampoon of Aspen's May Election

Click on this link to hear  Aspen Public Radio Station KAJX Christmas coverage including an interview with BetterBadNews, the creator of the video, and  Harvie Branscomb, the creator of this blog.


Click on the link below to see the 5 minute YouTube video made by volunteer artists in Berkeley who found humor in some of the bizarre events in Aspen's May election.


posted by Marilyn Marks 12.25.09

Mayor Ireland (who is interviewed in the radio piece itself) gives election quality advocates in Colorado his reaction to an email alerting them to the KAJX Christmas Day story about betterbadnews.com. Note that KAJX made the decision to report this week old story on Christmas Day.

Email from Mick Ireland to election quality advocates in Colorado on Fri 12/25/2009 11:50 AM

How foolish of me to not see the humor in a "satire' about people beating people with hockey sticks at my direction and stealing elections and generally being corrupt. It's just hilarious to see yourself depicted that way by people you have never me and who have made no attempt to hear our side of the story. Very funny Al and thanks for the Christmas present! One would not bear even a single day going by without ripping on the mayor of Aspen.
Posted by Harvie Branscomb 12/25/09 12:32 PM

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Aspen City Attorney Jim True and Mayor Mick Ireland separately respond to my letter

[Responses received by Harvie Branscomb concerning the 12/21/09 email to Jim True (Aspen Special Counsel) regarding election questions. This letter was printed in the 12/24/09 Aspen Times as a letter to the editor, and also appears in this blog as the previous post:]

Thu 12/24/2009 11:45 AM
Thank you for your recent email and attached letter. As I stated in the paper, I am happy to discuss these matters and address all of the questions that have been raised by you and anyone else. However, it is not my intent to do so in the papers.
It is my understanding that the City will address election issues, either directly with Council or with the assistance of the new Election Commission.

Thank you.

James R. True
Special Counsel

cc: John Worcester
[response from Harvie Branscomb to Aspen Special Counsel Jim True 12/27/09]
Thanks Jim True.
No doubt some other members of the public are as interested as I in the answers to these questions and in any substantive argumentation against any of my hypotheses or assumptions contained in these questions. Will you then be prepared to respond by email or by letter? Please let me know of any consideration you expect in handling answers to my questions and which medium you propose to use. I note that you waited until publication in the newspaper to answer my email and have not attempted to answer any of the questions yet to my knowledge. As time goes by I expect others will add to my original list of questions, at which time I will forward them on.

As you probably can guess we have recognized that the nature of the conversation has changed substantially since Marilyn Marks and I conversed with you and Mr. Worcester for a couple of hours in City Hall on the occasion when one of you told us that City Council had the right to decide to make the CD of ballot images available to the public. At that time we quite reasonably assumed that our goal was to convince the City Council of the value of full transparency. Much of what we are being told seems to have changed since then. I assure you that the source of any hostility being experienced is not resulting from my intention or that of Marilyn Marks, neither of which (intention) has really changed since mid May, 2009 before I first spoke to you. It is with regret that I have to mention that I have heard that the mayor expressed himself with an obscene gesture towards Ms. Milias this morning. I hope that isn’t a harbinger of more hostility to come.

Thanks very much and please enjoy your holiday.
Harvie Branscomb

[the following email was received from Mayor Mick Ireland, originally addressed to Colorado Voter Group, a listserv which delivers mail to Colorado based election reform advocates including Mick Ireland and Harvie Branscomb]

Thu 12/24/2009 9:25 AM 
More propaganda from Ms. Marks special friend. In fact, the marketing funds were discussed by a group of citizens solicited by staff, none of whom was appointed by the council. The Election Commission is an official body spelled out by the Home Rule Charter, appointed by council.
The simple fact is that Ms. Marks directed the activities of the Election Commission including decisions by that body to ask for “special” counsel at taxpayer expense to push for her agenda of a ballot recount (aka “review”).
The constant repetition/invitation to have someone sue to overturn the election result is not lost on Aspen residents. O, sure you would never ask the results be overturned (or as Ms. Marks puts it in her e-mails to her campaign treasurer “voided”) but it is clear that you and your friends would do your best to raise money on a national scale to achieve that end.

Happy Holidays.

Mick Ireland
515 Indepndence Place
Aspen CO 81611

[Harvie Branscomb's note: "Voiding" the election was mentioned once in a subject line of an email from Marilyn Marks that was never intended to be published. The inclusion of that phrase in no way logically demonstrates that Marilyn Marks, or for that matter any other election quality advocate such as myself,  is interested in "voiding" or "overturning" the Aspen election.  Unfortunately it seems impossible to disabuse Mr. Ireland of his extreme case of suspicion that we election quality advocates are engaged in such an attempt.]

[the following was contributed by Marilyn Marks as a comment]

Marilyn Marks said...

I am quite sure that Ireland understands that if someone wanted to overturn or void the election they would have started legal proceedings months ago. He knows that no one has even threatened such multi-year litigation, much less filed it. I'm not sure why he continues to make claims that voiding the election is our mission. If it were, surely we'd be well into the process by now.
I wish he would address the specific questions rather than make personal attacks.

December 24, 2009 10:47 PM

Election Questions (letter by Harvie Branscomb to the Aspen Attorney Jim True)

(as published in the Aspen Times, click here to see original and blog commentary)

Election questions

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Aspen Times Editor's note: The following letter was addressed to Jim True, special counsel for the city of Aspen.

Dear Editor:

I was glad to read your letter to editor generously offering to answer questions. What might a citizen risk by asking questions? From my perspective, two voluntary commissioners were recently dismissed following an unjust smear campaign that prevented their pursuit of election quality improvements. It appears to me that their principal error was to ask difficult questions.

It has been reported that the city knowingly skirted the law by holding a secret meeting to discuss spending marketing funds. Were election commissioners railroaded from their roles for a similar but unintentional technical infraction after questioning election impropriety?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland to the "voting rights community"

Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland's message of December 20, 2009
(followed by a copy annotated by Harvie Branscomb and Marilyn Marks)

Subject: Why we don't need your help in running our elections and why a recount is not needed


To the "voting rights community"

There are many of us in Aspen who do not support the intervention of people who do not live here in our elections.  It should be noted that the litigation you ask us to financially support is being funded in part by Ms. Marks, the candidate who lost the election and another unknown part is coming from people who have no direct knowledge of Ms. Marks and her ongoing campaign to discredit the City of Aspen.  It is odd that you claim those who disagree with her are conducting a “smear” campaign, while excusing her tactics as a candidate, which are of record and met with widespread disapproval by the electorate including some of her supporters.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

How Aspen Violated Colorado Ranked Choice Voting Rules

[Mike LaBonte,  an election quality advocate from Massachusetts posted  the following summary of one portion of his work related to the Aspen election on the BlackBoxVoting.org website on January 7, and accepted the invitation to post it here as well.   --posted by M. Marks.]

Colorado state law has a section CRS 1-7-1003 allowing for ranked choice voting. It describes a form of instant runoff voting (IRV) for single seat elections, and a form of single transferable vote (STV) for multiple seat elections. It also has a clause allowing IRV for multiple seat elections with a condition:
 A local government may also conduct an election pursuant to this subsection (4) using the principles of instant runoff voting specified in subsection (3) of this section to ensure that each elector has equal voting power and that an elector's lower ranking of a candidate does not count against the candidate to whom the elector gave the highest rank.

Put another way, in an election in which candidate A is a winner, it must not be possible to have a set of ballots with candidate A ranked #1 and various other lower ranked choices, which upon changing only the lower ranked choices can make candidate A lose. Imagine that you ranked candidate A number 1 and that was your only vote in an election that candidate A wins. Now imagine you had instead ranked candidate A number one and candidate B number 2, and now candidate A loses! It can happen if the 2nd rank vote for candidate B moves B ahead of A in an early round, and A is eliminated even though A would have picked up more votes in a later round. This is one form of non-monotonic behavior. To be fair, a regular series of regular non-instant runoffs potentially has the same effect.

The method chosen by Aspen for their City Council race appears to attempt to utilize that last clause in CRS 1-7-1003 above. They did not use STV, but rather a separate IRV race for each council seat.

It can be proven with the ballot data from the Aspen May 5, 2009 election that a change in the outcome of the City Council race was possible, due to non-monotonicity. In that election Derek Johnson won seat 1 and Torre won seat 2. Briefly, if every voter who ranked Torre number 1 had also ranked Jack Johnson number 2, with no other candidates ranked, Jack Johnson would have won seat 1 and Derek Johnson would have won seat 2. Torre's victory would have changed to a loss, and his supporters would have caused it by their 2nd place rankings for Jack Johnson.

Although there is a debate about Aspen's non-release of actual ballot images, much information from that election has been made public, to their credit. Everything needed to reproduce the counting has been provided, including the "ballot string" files (interpreted from the actual ballots that we can't see) and configuration files for using the ChoicePlus Pro software used in the actual election. I have attached a zip archive with 2 subfolders. Folder "may5_original_camb" reproduces the counting using the Aspen rules, just to prove my setup replicates the original results. Folder "torre1_jjohnson2_camb" uses ballots modified as described above, in which voters who ranked Torre number 1 hypothetically defeated him by also ranking Jack Johnson number 2. It didn't happen that way. But it could have, and that is what Colorado state law seems to prohibit.

The files supporting this work are at: http://www.bbvforums.org/forums/messages/8/aspen_nonmono_irv-80803.zip