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County clerk loans voting equipment to Grace Church 

The ongoing, weeklong vote at Grace Church and St. Stephen's Parish to determine whether the congregation should leave the U.S. Episcopal Church is being conducted using borrowed El Paso County voting equipment.

Bob Balink, El Paso County's elected clerk and recorder, approved the loan even though he's also a member of the church vestry, or board.

Balink says there is no conflict of interest and defends loaning six of the county's voting booths and a ballot box. Such equipment, he says, is commonly loaned to help small elections at no charge. He adds that expensive machinery commonly used in general elections was not loaned because of its value.

"We would never lend election equipment that really deteriorates, like the touch screens and the AccuVote counting machines," says Balink, also serving as a consultant in the Grace vote.

In March, Balink joined the vestry in voting to affiliate Grace with an Anglican diocese in Nigeria led by a bishop critical of the U.S. church's support for gay and lesbian relationships. That vote surprised many parishioners.

Hundreds could vote to ratify or refuse the vestry's decision, but Episcopal loyalists aren't likely to be among them. Worshiping elsewhere in Colorado Springs because of the split, Grace Episcopalians were asked by their own vestry the one now recognized by the Diocese of Colorado to forgo the "charade" of voting.

The vote, results of which will be announced Saturday, continues as the Rev. Don Armstrong faces accusations from the diocese of stealing or defrauding hundreds of thousands of church dollars. Armstrong has denied the charges.

Meanwhile, a legal battle continues for the 601 N. Tejon St. church property that Armstrong and his supporters currently inhabit.

Alan Crippen, a spokesman for the secessionist vestry, says Armstrong already has left the Episcopal fold, and that if parishioners don't vote to join the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, a mission of the Diocese of Nigeria, Armstrong would leave Grace, probably with many of his supporters.

"The die is cast for Father Armstrong," Crippen says.

County Commissioner Jim Bensberg spoke with Balink about the loan of county equipment after the Independent inquired. Bensberg was satisfied that Balink "hadn't done anything wrong" and acted within his discretion as an elected official.

Balink says his office would bill the church $35, "as if we had the truck come over from the warehouse on a special trip." Actually, he says, the delivery came during a routine drive between a county warehouse and a county office near Grace.

"I still thought we'll charge a nominal fee, nonetheless," Balink adds, "even though there was little or no cost."

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