06/28/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Con Games: The Loony Bin of Aspen Politics

So we have Marilyn Marks resigning from The Red Ant blog, the waspish Elizabeth Milias berating Aspen City Manager Steve Barwick, and the gnatty Andrew Kole professing his preference for blondes.

Just another day in Paradise, where the insects are only human.

In the loony bin of Aspen politics, I have been trying to make sense of the nonsensical, particularly when it comes to the Aspen Election Commissions (EC) past and present, a formerly innocuous body that may yet assume superpowers. I finally figured out why everything seems so loony, thanks to a letter Tuesday in the local fishwrap from Ward Hauenstein, a new member of the newly reconstituted EC. (See his full letter below.) In asking for public comment, Hauenstein wrote: "As a new member I have no surviving complaints submitted to the last EC, save the Zimet complaint."

That's right: the entire Mayoral and City Council "controversy" produced exactly one formal complaint to the Election Commission, from Millard Zimet, said to be a very smart man. The rest of the noise came primarily from two people: Marilyn Marks and Elizabeth Milias, later a controversial EC member. For the record, Marks came in second to Mick Ireland in the race for Mayor, and Milias was MM's spear-carrier in the campaign. For all intents and purposes, the election "controversy" consisted of three people: Marks, Milias, and Zimet, with election transparency activist Harvie Branscombe eventually batting cleanup.

Harvie has a mission to reform elections everywhere, especially in Colorado. Marks and the Instant Runoff Election in Aspen are the perfect litmus test in his quest for transparency. He hooks up with Marilyn Marks, but in a good way. He encourages her to drop $75,000 on a lawyer to sue the City of Aspen, and he commiserates when the City prepares to hit her with another $75,000 in legal bills after she loses the case.

And here's the good part, the part that is almost unknowable unless you spend hours on the phone with Harvie. Even though MM came in second, even though she's spent all that money, neither she nor Branscombe are "contesting the election." Disingenuous as it sounds, the suit lost by Marks and certain to be appealed would do nothing more than allow Marks and Branscombe to examine the digital ballots. If they win, all that happens is they get to look at the ballots.

You see, Harvie and MM don't know of any significant discrepancies in the ballots. They just want to look at the ballots to establish a precedent. They are proceeding under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA). They are not alleging any wrongdoing by anybody. They just want to see the ballots. As a matter of principle.

So let's summarize. The original EC received one official complaint, by Millard Zimet. The litigation paid for by Marilyn Marks continues not because there is any evidence of wrongdoing or malfeasance, but because she and Harvie want to see the ballots for precedent's sake.

I'm just loony enough to see this as much ado about almost nothing. You could argue that if people like MM and Mini-Me want to waste their time like this, then godspeed. But it's not that simple, because in the process the manufactured "controversy" has been salt in the wound of a City that would have been far better off healing.

It's sad, really. Even if they win, we lose.

Dear Editor:

As a member of the newly appointed Election Commission (EC) I am requesting that anyone with complaints relative to last May's election to submit them in writing to either the City Clerk's office or to us via e-mail at:

Ward Hauenstein at:

Bob Leatherman at:

Kathryn Koch at:

Speaking unofficially for the EC we have set a deadline of May 8 to receive complaints about the last May election. We will review all submissions and act upon them as quickly as possible. Any reviews of the EC will be in open meetings that have been properly noticed to the public.

For those who had previously submitted complaints to the last EC please resubmit them. As a new member I have no surviving complaints submitted to the last EC, save the Zimet complaint. We are starting fresh and do not want to overlook anything.

Speaking for myself I represent the entire city of Aspen. I am not a representative of the left or right, Democrat or Republican. I am open to all and exclude nobody. I was appointed in part I believe because of my openness and willingness to hear from all with no preconceived position.

Elections are the forum to choose our leaders. Nothing should stand in the way of a fair and open election. Nobody should have a fear of reprisals for expressing their beliefs of wrongdoing or flaw in procedures as it relates to elections. If anyone feels they have been the subject of any form of reprisal for expressing their views please contact the EC or the district attorney's office.

Ward Hauenstein