El Paso County is Colorado’s most-populated county. It’s also, undeniably, a GOP stronghold with a rich legacy of political hijinks and shenanigans — usually inspired by Republicans. And that leaves plenty of progressives leery that, come Election Day, Clerk and Recorder Bob Balink will do everything he can to make it difficult, or at least unpleasant, for non-Republicans to vote.
Which leads us to Democrat state Sen. John Morse’s claims of Balink’s 12-point strategy to suppress the vote.
“My goal as your county clerk and recorder is to deliver services and products to you in the most timely, cost efficient and secure manner possible, while treating you with courtesy and respect,” is what Balink has posted at the county’s official Web site.But recent performances by the clerk and recorder — a delegate last month to the Republican National Convention in St. Paul — has left Morse peeling the gloves off.
Yes, Morse, a Democrat who represents much of south-central Colorado Springs in El Paso County, is fuming over recent snafus which, in his mind, constitute an emerging and consistent pattern. Morse does not mince words as he rattles off what he calls Balink’s 12-point strategy to disenfranchise voters. Without further ado:
1. Adamantly oppose any move to use paper ballots in an election, since it leaves an audit trail and makes mistakes “too easy” to track. Balink, Morse notes, vociferously opposed efforts to move to paper ballots during the last legislative session, after the secretary of state decertified electronic ballot machines statewide. “Everyone knows the safest way to vote is with the paper ballot,” Morse says, “and initially there was huge support for it in both houses of the legislature and by Gov. [Bill] Ritter. But then Balink and others said ‘No, we can’t have that,’ so everyone backed off.”
2. Favor election machines that have only a limited audit trail and use election machines that have been decertified — if they’ve failed accuracy tests that makes them even better.
Again, Morse cites Balink’s support of electronic voting machines that had been decertified.
3. Hire unqualified people to do the work in the clerk’s office. This criticism comes in the wake of a recent report that Balink’s assistant chief deputy, John Gardner, who oversees the county’s election equipment, including accuracy testing, reportedly lied on his job application, claiming he had graduated from college even though he never did. “So you hire people who can’t do the work,” Morse jabs, “and then when things get jacked up and not done right you justify it by saying, ‘We’re working hard … this is a tough thing to do … counting all the votes is really hard.’”
4. Claim illegal residents are registering to vote and spend your limited time and resources to keep people from registering to vote instead of making sure people do register … and do it under the guise that — gasp — illegal immigrants are trying to vote! This point draws back to one of Balink’s most passionate issues of the past couple of years. He has said he has no scintilla of proof that undocumented people are attempting to vote in El Paso County but, as previously detailed by the Colorado Independent, Balink nonetheless ardently supports the notion that people should be required to prove their citizenship before they are allowed to vote. “America is under attack,” Balink claimed in one newsletter shortly before the 2006 election, calling for a “New American Revolution” of sorts, and demanding, “Where’s the outrage?” Says Morse: Balink should be working to register as many people as possible who are qualified to vote in the county — not chasing after a nonexistent bogeyman.
5. Purge the rolls of inactive voters and define the word “inactive” aggressively. Morse takes issue with the way that voters in El Paso County go right onto the “inactive” roll if they didn’t vote in a general election. (Liz Olson, the head of elections for the county, notes that inactive voters are sent cards in the mail when they miss a general election and are moved into the “inactive” category. In keeping with state law, inactive voters are purged from the rolls if they have not voted in two general elections.)
6. Send a letter to Colorado College — but not the Air Force Academy — with false information regarding voter registration. If you’re caught, claim you misinterpreted the law and pray no one actually looks at the law. Specifically, Morse is referencing a major dust-up of a few weeks ago when Colorado College, a liberal arts college in Colorado Springs, produced a letter from Balink’s office claiming that students there could not vote in El Paso County if their parents in other states claimed them as dependents in those states. That was incorrect, of course, and Balink subsequently claimed it was a big mix-up, and that his office had misinterpreted state law. The state statute — section 1-2-101 — Morse counters, is actually quite simple. Eligible voters must be 18 years old, a U.S. citizen and have lived in their precinct for 30 days prior to the election. Notably, the letter wasn’t sent to the Air Force Academy, also in Colorado Springs and presumably with a far more conservative student population than that of Colorado College.
7. Reduce the number of early voting locations so people can’t vote early and conveniently. Two years ago, El Paso County had six sites open for early voting; this year they closed three of them, including in Fountain, Monument and Falcon. Olson, the elections head, said that this year she expected a large voter turnout and opted to close those sites because of concerns they wouldn’t be able to handle the crowds.
8. Challenge each new voter registration. On Sept. 22, Balink announced that his office had determined a pattern of election “fraud.” Specifically, he cited incorrect addresses and invalid identifications, such as false drivers license numbers, among the indications of fraud. In all, Olson says, 19 suspected fraudulent voter registrations have been turned over to the district attorney for investigation. That’s out of 49,343 new voter registrations since Jan. 1 that have been processed so far, Morse notes — which hardly constitutes a pattern. “Bob Balink is not qualified to judge fraud — he needs to register people to vote and make sure they meet their legal requirements to do so instead of challenging them at every turn,” the senator says.
9. Process registrations as slowly as possible so people get their mail ballots slowly and don’t have time to vote by mail. Morse has been critical of the length of time the Clerk and Recorder’s office has processed the voter-related documents it has received. On Wednesday, Olson said her office has 9,000 documents, including new voter registrations, still to be processed.
10. Systematically challenge Colorado College students on the day of the polls. In 2004, many students waited for hours to vote at their precinct at First Presbyterian Church downtown and reported they faced tough scrutiny from judges, including challenges to the identification documents they produced.
11. Claim at every opportunity that you are saving the taxpayers money by limiting voting. By slashing early voting centers and opposing the cost of paper ballots, officials can claim they are saving cash and being “good stewards” of the taxpayers’ money. Last year county commissioners slashed the budget for this year’s election, a move Morse calls unconscionable. “Balink’s using the lack of a budget to justify suppressing the vote,” claims Morse, a former chief of police. “County commissioners should be shutting down the Sheriff’s Office before shutting down the election department.”
12. When accused of attempting to suppress the vote and limiting voting, stay out of sight. Whatever you do, don’t talk to the media. Just send out press releases denying plausibility. Balink, Morse notes, hasn’t responded to requests by news outlets and hasn’t shown up on camera to answer questions about the recent controversies.
Note: This week Balink, in his second elected term in office, did not respond to requests seeking response to criticisms of his office. His elections manager, Liz Olson, rejected claims that would-be voters were being purposely disenfranchised. “We have not stopped anyone from registering to vote,” Olson said. “We’re a public office — if someone wants to vote we register them.” She referred specific questions about her boss’s past statements to Balink … her boss.