Mesa County settles Marks suit over voter records

The Mesa County Clerk & Recorder’s Office settled a federal lawsuit over an open records request Tuesday.

But instead of asking for changes in elections procedures or receiving denied documents in order to achieve a purported goal of ensuring secret ballots, plaintiffs in the case settled for $30,000.

The settlement ends the county’s involvement in a federal case involving the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office and a handful of counties over allegations that some ballots may be traceable to the voters who cast them.

The lawsuit was filed by the Citizens Center, formed by Aspen resident Marilyn Marks, who has filed numerous court cases against state and county election officials, including Mesa County Clerk Sheila Reiner.

Last year, Reiner and other clerks denied open records requests filed by Marks for actual ballots and other records, saying doing so would compromise the clerks’ ability to protect voter secrecy.

The Colorado Supreme Court upheld an appellate court ruling that ballots are subject to the state’s open records laws.

“Colorado open records laws exist to ensure government transparency and accountability, and in no sphere of government activity are these goals more crucial than in the citizen’s elections,” Marks said in a statement. “With (Tuesday’s) settlement, Mesa County has committed to preserve for future elections all of its electronic records necessary to permit the public to test the integrity of the county’s elections.”

Actually, that is required by laws passed by the Colorado Legislature earlier this year as a result of the court rulings, and the settlement is only an opportunity to get out from under the federal lawsuit, Reiner said.

Reiner estimates the county’s costs in battling Marks’ suits to-date are at least twice the $30,000 amount.

“When you add up our staff time and the attorney’s time and the county resources that were going to have to be spent to continue to fight it out just for the simple matter of attorney’s fees, it was a better business decision to settle,” Reiner said.

“It pains me, but it’s not about my pride, it’s about what’s best for the county.

“This is a realizing of the amount of county resources the taxpayers would have to support for us to continue the (legal) fight, and essentially assigning a nuisance value (to the lawsuit),” Reiner said. “The case was really moot at this point, but it was clear that (Marks) was going to continue to fight to get her attorney’s fees.”

Now, the federal case will continue, but without Mesa County’s involvement.


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