Thursday, October 16, 2008

Block the Vote? El Paso County Clerk’s Erratic Behavior Discouraging to Voters

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Balink’s Repeated Misstatements, Ties to State GOP’s Legal Firm Raise Serious Red Flags

Colorado Springs, CO – Colorado Democratic Party Chair Pat Waak, State Sen. John Morse (District 11), and State Rep. Michael Merrifield (District 18) joined other concerned Coloradans to demand that El Paso County Clerk Bob Balink stop making misleading statements to college students, work to ensure fair and open elections, and fully disclose his relationship with the legal firm that represents the Colorado Republican Party.

Balink’s response to an inquiry from Colorado College journalism student Tabatha Hrynick, ominously states, “Registering to vote in Colorado can have cascading effects” for both students and their parents, including “criminal penalties” for cars not registered in-state and the loss of tax exemptions costing as much as $3500. The letter was drafted by the partisan law firm Zakhem-Atherton, LLC, which is also the state GOP’s counsel, and refers Hrynick to the firm for further information on voting laws.

“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,” said Colorado Democratic Party Chair Pat Waak. “We should welcome everyone who is legally eligible to vote in Colorado, to join our community, register, and vote in our elections. Yet, the El Paso County Clerk is creating obstacles to participation based on misunderstanding or malicious intent. Coloradans demand that our election process is fair and open and that everyone who is eligible and registers is able to vote.”

“The voters of El Paso County expect honesty and integrity from their County Clerk,” said State Sen. Morse. “Bob 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 non-partisan office.”

In September, Balink was forced to apologize for making misleading statements to Colorado College students about voter registration requirements. In developing a response to Hrynick’s follow-up letter, the County Clerk solicited assistance from the Republican Party legal firm, which reiterated the same misleading advice for which Balink had previously provided and apologized. Generally, the County Attorney would provide legal advice and representation for elected county officials.

In addition to Balink’s intimidating legal memo and solicitation of partisan counsel, just in the last few weeks, Balink’s office has faxed voter registration forms – forms which include personal and confidential information -- to members of the media, refused to re-establish any of the three early vote locations that he arbitrarily removed, and his behavior has continued to cause alarm and frustration in the community.