Scott Gessler targeted by activist over voting in Saguache county and beyond
Aspen's Marilyn Marks is driven.
The woman behind Citizen Center, a nonprofit organization that focuses on elections issues and more, is pushing Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler's office to hold a hearing prompted by her complaint about alleged voting irregularities in Saguache County. And today, she plans to announce a broader lawsuit focusing on Gessler and officials in several other counties.
Marks's background? "I used to be the primary owner and CEO of a trailer manufacturing firm," she says. "I retired to Aspen in 2002 and ran for mayor in 2009 -- and that experience caused me to get completely passionate about Colorado's elections, which are some of the least transparent, most troublesome elections in the country. In the past almost-three years, I have become a full-time election-quality advocate: I have seven active lawsuits going on across the state on election transparency and election quality. And now, I've established a nonprofit so that I can continue my work in a more organized way."
Even before Citizen Center's founding, however, Marks demonstrated doggedness and focus in regard to issues that concern her -- including the election two years ago in Saguache County.
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"They bought with HAVA [Help America Vote Act] funds a very complex computerized voting machine about a month before the 2010 election," she says. "The system that they purchased was not certified by the Secretary of State because they only bought one component of a certified system -- the same system in use in Jefferson County and Mesa County."
According to Marks, "that system had a number of problems when it was decertified and then recertified in 2007-2008 by the Secretary of State's office" -- and she believes the Saguache vote bore them out: "The Saguache election found gross errors as well as an enormous amount of negligence."
Last April, in an effort to prove these contentions, Marks asked the Secretary of State to investigate the Saguache election under the dictates of HAVA. However, his office declined to do so. Why?
"There are two components to a HAVA complaint under state law," says Rich Coolidge, spokesman for the Secretary of State's office. "A person has either to have been personally aggrieved or have personally witnessed the violation. Since Ms. Marks was not a resident of Saguache County and did not witness any of the pieces she alleged, we sent her about a five-page letter on June 22 saying that she didn't have standing."
This response irked Marks. "I live in Aspen, which is not close to Saguache County," she acknowledges. "But I've been helping Saguache citizens for the past year. And the standard Gessler set for what it would take to have standing to file a complaint is an unachievable standard if you're talking about computer and software errors of the type we've seen here. You can't observe a software error happening unless you're inside the computer -- but you can observe the results. And while I could have gotten plenty of Saguache citizens to say, 'I was a voter, and I know the voting machine didn't work right, and I think my vote didn't count,' that person would have had to disclose how they voted and then showed that to be true, which could only happen if they had great access to the voting system."
Such requirements strike Marks as unnecessary given that "we know from system logs and printouts that there were mechanical errors -- like incidents where the clock started running backward."
The matter didn't end there. Marks filed a complaint in Denver District Court, which sided with her in October. The Secretary of State's office responded by filing a motion to dismiss the case. But on February 2, Judge William D. Robbins clarified his ruling, stressing that Marks did indeed have standing under HAVA and ordering Gessler and company to schedule a public hearing to address her concerns.
At this point, the office has not scheduled such a get-together. "We're still reviewing the ruling and deciding on our next steps -- either an appeal or potentially moving forward with a public hearing," says spokesman Coolidge. The deadline: 45 days from Robbins's clarification.
Oh yeah: Last month, as noted in this University of Minnesota post, Saguache voters recalled County Clerk Melinda Myers, who oversaw the disputed 2010 election.
In the meantime, Marks is moving forward on other fronts. During a press conference scheduled to take place at 1 p.m. today at 303 E. 17th Avenue, Suite 565, in Denver, the Citizen Center will formally announce the filing of a lawsuit in U.S. District Court. The document requests "an injunction and declaratory judgment requiring Secretary of State Scott Gessler and the county clerks of Boulder, Jefferson, Larimer, Mesa, Eagle and Chaffee counties to immediately halt practices that violate voters' constitutional rights to vote anonymous, untraceable ballots."
Clearly, Marks isn't resting on her laurels. Look below to read the judge's order in the Saguache County matter.
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More from our Politics archive: "Scott Gessler dubbed rock star by NPR, but he prefers being called Honey Badger."
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