El Paso County Democrats blast Balink

Accuse clerk of discouraging voters

By Leslie Jorgensen

COLORADO SPRINGS — Democratic Party leaders blasted El Paso County Clerk & Recorder Bob Balink for using a Republican law firm to scare college students away from registering to vote, faxing two voter registrations to 10 media outlets, and imprinting “DEM” on mail-in ballot labels.

The letter to a Colorado College student was similar to one Balink sent to Colorado College students in March. Last month, however, Balink said that his interpretation of the Colorado statutes that led to the letter had been flawed. The recent communication was developed by Denver-based Zakhem-Atherton LLC at Balink’s request.

Photo by Tatianna Gruen/The Colorado Statesman

Democrats Sen. John Morse, left, state party Chair Pat Waak, middle, and 5th CD candidate Hal Bidlack, right, accuse El Paso County Clerk & Recorder Bob Balink of blocking students from voting.

Two voter registration forms containing personal information — including Social Security numbers — were faxed to 10 media outlets on Saturday, Oct. 11. One form belonged to a contractor working in Afghanistan who registered as a Democrat.

Some Democrats who had requested replacement mail-in ballots were dismayed to see “DEM” printed on the outside of the envelope next to the bar code. Original mail-in envelopes are printed by the Colorado Department of State. Replacements are printed by local county clerk offices.

“In Florida there was a discovery of the dots… those with two dots on the address label were Democrats,” stated Bob Nemanich in an “incident report” to the state Democratic Party. “Those 10,000 ballots were never recorded. Is this the same situation?”

“At best, the El Paso County clerk does not understand the laws he was elected to uphold in a nonpartisan manner. At worst, he is intentionally seeking to intimidate young voters,” declared Colorado Democratic Party Chair Pat Waak.

To counter the possibility of having the “DEM”-marked ballot envelopes tossed, Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, urged people to bring the mail-in ballots to the county clerk’s office, turn them in and get a receipt.

Waak unfurled the list of irregularities along with Morse and Democratic 5th Congressional District candidate Hal Bidlack at a press conference Thursday, Oct. 16, in front of Balink’s downtown office.

“They can have a daily media conference claiming disenfranchisement of voters, but it doesn’t change the fact that there is no truth to their statement,” responded Balink in prepared remarks. “Our office is committed to encouraging and assisting every eligible person to register to vote … and vote on Election Day.”

Balink was unavailable for comment because he was assisting Liz Olson, election department manager, in a half-day training session for precinct judges.

The Democrats provided evidence of the irregularities, including a series of e-mails between Balink and Tabitha Hrynick, a Colorado College journalism student who had requested clarification about voter registration.

Balink wrote, “I have a summary of the legal issues for ANYONE who registers to vote, including students. I can send that to you around 6 p.m. tonight when I get home… It’s not my side of the story, it’s just the law. With these facts you’ll get an ‘A.’ ”

The summary, written by Erik Groves of Zakhem-Atherton, referenced a press conference by Waak, Morse and attorney Martha Tierney in September, challenging Balink’s letter to Colorado College that implied students were ineligible to register to vote in El Paso County.

“Advocates, such as Senator John Morse, Martha Tierney and Pat Waak, are correct in stating that there are no prohibitions on Colorado College students registering to vote. Nevertheless, out-of-state students should do so with their eyes wide open. Registering to vote in Colorado can have cascading effects that could affect the students and their parents financially,” stated Groves.

The summary stated that out-of-state students who register to vote must also declare Colorado as their state of residency and meet obligations that include obtaining a Colorado driver’s license and vehicle registration.

“Failure to do either of these acts could result in criminal penalties,” warned Groves.

The summary also listed potential financial consequences if students establish residency in Colorado in order to vote. That, Groves said, can “jeopardize their parents’ ability to claim the student as a dependent on their taxes… and could end up costing the parents the $3,500 tax deduction.”

“That’s all nonsensical,” said Morse of the advice from Balink and Groves. “We have to question Bob Balink’s competence.”

Morse questioned why Balink consulted the Zakhem-Atherton law firm instead of El Paso County Attorney Bill Louis, who provides legal advice to county departments and elected officials.

“It appears that he spent taxpayer dollars to obtain partisan legal advice that gave him the answers he wanted — not the answers that benefited the public that he’s sworn by oath to protect and serve,” Morse said.

“Balink needs to explain why he repeatedly provides students misinformation and half-truths on voter registration and why he is turning to a blatantly partisan law firm for legal advice for a nonpartisan office,” declared Morse.

Morse noted the county clerk’s deep Republican roots. Balink serves as the Republican Party’s 5th Congressional District chair. The state GOP political director and in-house counsel is Ryan Call, an attorney on leave from Zakhem-Atherton. John Zakhem is the son of Sam Zakhem, a former Republican state senator who was named ambassador to Bahrain by President Ronald Reagan.

“He’s working on a strategy to suppress the votes. He’s not making sure everybody gets to vote,” said Morse.

Bidlack said there is “relentless repetition” in mistakes by Balink’s office, from failing to inform voters that mail-in ballots require extra postage to missing voter registrations.

“It’s a darn shame. It’s despicable, and it’s got to stop!” declared Bidlack.

From Balink’s perspective, his office has been under relentless scrutiny. After last month’s press conference, which aired Democrats’ criticisms of the county clerk’s letter to students and problems with private voter registration groups, Balink said he received a lot of hate mail.

One of Balink’s key staffers may be investigated for perjury by Attorney General John Suthers. The request for investigation was made by Denver attorney Michael Williams, who alleged that John Gardner lied under oath during a 2006 lawsuit. Gardner, who oversaw voter machine testing for the Department of State, claimed that he had earned a college degree from Montana State University in 1994, although the university has no record of his graduation.

Gardner, who worked for the office of the El Paso County clerk and recorder before transferring to the secretary of state’s office, was rehired by Balink to oversee voting equipment and some computer systems.