Election hijinks in Pueblo

Election hijinks in Pueblo

Pueblo officials and media team up to retaliate against election whistle-blowers

Pueblo, Colo.— Retaliation against a whistle-blower is a well-known ploy to sustain corrupt schemes and officials’ abuse of power. However, when respected media leaders vilify citizen watchdogs, the facts must be exposed in a forum free from the reach of the media and government cabal.

Becky Mizel, Pueblo County Republican Party Chair and long time advocate for election reform, is being defamed, vilified and wrongfully accused of “theft” of “confidential” election records. The records in controversy are merely paper printouts of public records. Hundreds of copies of the printouts could have been made by Pueblo County Clerk Ortiz with the push of the “print” button. These records have the value of recycled paper. Nevertheless, accusers fabricated a “scandal” from Mizel’s innocent mistake of assuming the printout was her copy and putting it in her satchel. The politically motivated and media-fed “scandal,” based on trumped up charges, served to deflect attention from symptoms of November’s real election irregularities.

Last week Colorado media giants shamelessly helped bury Pueblo election irregularities by maligning and defaming a leader who demanded a transparent election. The Denver Post, the Pueblo Chieftain and NBC affiliate KOAA regurgitated ProgressNow’s hyper-biased, factually inaccurate political attack on Mizel. The Chieftain posted edited video with captions making claims of criminal wrongdoing. KOAA aired the video, and reporters piled on to make false and unsupportable accusations about the purportedly “stolen” documents. Even the Denver Post editorial board wrongly accused Mizel. Citizen attempts to request corrections from the media have been met with no response, other than to double down on the accusations.

The media seemed to condone the alarming fact that Clerk Ortiz unlawfully  locked all the participants inside the meeting room against their will until one of two printouts was located. The media did not obtain neutral witnesses’ accounts of the episode but swallowed the ProgressNow poison. Media falsely claimed that the (public) records were “confidential,” although the District Attorney Chostner made no such finding in his politically motivated letter.

Citizens who attempted to expose irregularities in the November election suffered recent unethical and intimidating attacks by county officials and mainstream media. The likely effect is to assure that voters ask no further questions about the November election or future elections.

The press failed to report that the canvass board’s politically conservative members certified the November returns only under duress, against their consciences, while being threatened with immediate lawsuits against them if they officially reported their inability to verify Pueblo’s unverifiable election results.

The irregularities noted but blocked from investigation include missing and broken seals on ballot boxes, unreconcilable precinct results, high rejection rates in the central ballot tabulator, lost chain of custody of ballots, a noncompliant “audit,” and high error rates of manual duplication of ballots. The rates of voting in “down ballot” races were exceptionally high, out of line with other populous counties, suggesting that additional “votes” may have been marked on ballots after they were cast. The canvass board’s attempts to investigate were met with hostility, intimidation and threats. The Republican Party requested a recount so that the irregularities could be investigated. Clerk Ortiz, a candidate whose race was subject to recount, was permitted to unilaterally determine the recount price charged to his challenger. Not surprisingly, the recount became unaffordable.

The Pueblo District Attorney and the Clerk have a history of partnering to attempt to shut down election oversight. In 2013 Clerk Ortiz filed a complaint against me with the D.A. because I tweeted partial election results reported from polling places after 7 p.m. on Election Day in the September recall election. The D.A. initiated an investigation of watchers for disclosing partial tabulations (public records) after the closing of the polls! Only after I engaged an attorney did the political harassment by the D.A., instigated by Clerk Ortiz, stop.

The abuse by the D.A.’s office to harass and intimidate county officials’ political opponents is the stuff of “banana republics.” The letter from the D.A. is a political prop created for use by Ortiz and ProgressNow and not responsible prosecutorial discretion. When a leading newspaper exaggerates the irresponsible allegations, citizens both question and fear the motives behind this powerful combined attack.

It’s troubling that Clerk Ortiz and D.A. Chostner are operating as a team, abusing their power to intimidate those who would expose the details of Pueblo elections. Threats of criminal charges against watchers and threatened civil litigation against conscientious canvass board members serve to maintain the political bosses’ iron-fisted grip on Pueblo elections and further escalate citizens’ apprehensions. When mainstream media rushes to convict the whistle-blowers, parroting the allegations as facts rather than investigating the underlying election irregularities, all Colorado voters should be greatly concerned. Undermining the rights of self-government is a dangerous course indeed.

This article was written by Marilyn Marks, Denver, Colo., and first appeared in styrk online. Reprinted with the author's permission.