Following is an open letter to Gov. Bill Ritter, which we'll also be sending to him personally, strongly encouraging him to step in and do something about Colorado's worsening election crisis and "crisis" is not an overstatement.
Dear Gov. Ritter,
Greetings from Colorado Springs and El Paso County, home to the state's largest if fractured and increasingly desperate faction of the Republican Party. As you know, we also have more than 80,000 registered Democrats, more than Pueblo and closing in on Boulder. Just not so many in leadership positions yet.
There have been strange developments in some (if not many) of the counties under your authority. El Paso County surely has some of the strangest.
Already, we have a lame-duck district attorney, voted out because of his escapades in drinking, driving and working (in that order). We have a county government that can't afford to inspect restaurants or tattoo parlors, and a city government that is cutting staff by the dozen and even locking park restrooms.
And now we have a county clerk and recorder, Bob Balink, who appears intent on suppressing the vote in this 2008 general election.
That's right, suppression. How else can one label it, when he has sent out misinformation intended to discourage young, inspired students at Colorado College from registering to vote? Even in cleaning up his egregious mistakes in information sent out last spring, he continues to focus on obstacles instead of on how easy it really should be for college students to register and vote here.
Now we're hearing that, after a voter registration drive at our University of Colorado campus, unaffiliated voters were all confirmed with no problems while some, perhaps many, Democrats' names were delayed or even vanished. Imagine that!
In addition, Balink's office has sent out more than 120,000 mail-in ballots, but with no warning to voters that the envelope will require 59 cents in postage to be delivered. The envelope merely says "adequate postage necessary," with no indication to the public that more than a typical stamp is needed. That's a disservice to voters.
More about credibility
Surely, Gov. Ritter, you also know of Balink's "new" deputy, John Gardner. The same guy who made such a mess in the secretary of state's office that a court ruled all voting machines across the state would have to be re-tested. Perhaps you didn't see that Gardner resurfaced here, and that we've been uncovering enough about him (starting with his inability to prove he has the college degree he claimed on local and state job applications, and testified to under oath) that now we're told Attorney General John Suthers is being asked to file perjury charges.
Yet Gardner remains in charge of our voting machines down here. They're the Diebold brand. You know, the kind that became famous four years ago in Ohio, when the company CEO promised he could "deliver" the election to George W. Bush. (And who knows, perhaps he did.) With a few quick "adjustments" and no way for others to know, Diebolds can simply "miss" votes, perhaps just in certain places such as strongly Democratic precincts.
Something else about Balink that might not have made it to Denver: He ordered that all TVs in his office's public waiting areas be set only on FOX News, delivering the unfettered conservative gospel, and occasionally the Weather Channel. Also, despite El Paso County sprawling more than 2,000 square miles, Balink set up only three locations (downtown and at our two malls) for early voting, ignoring large areas heavily populated with military and lower-income neighborhoods. Douglas County has 11 early-voting locations, Jefferson County eight, Larimer County seven and Boulder County five.
Concerned yet, Gov. Ritter? Perhaps you should be. After all, what if votes are confused and improperly tabulated? What if thousands receive mail ballots when they didn't ask for them, making those people ineligible to vote at the polls on Nov. 4? What if more college students, after properly filling out all the forms, discover at the polls Nov. 4 that they aren't eligible to vote?
Of course, somebody is in charge of this election at the state level, right? Oh wait, that's Secretary of State Mike Coffman, who's very busy now running for Congress. The guy supervising the election is on the ballot? Can you say, "Conflict of interest?" So in reality, nobody is minding a store already riddled with controversy. What are citizens to think?
It's a recipe for a Nov. 4 horror show. Brace yourself to hear about long lines and longer waits. About machines that aren't reliable and can't be checked for accuracy. About thousands showing up, being wrongly told they can't vote and then screaming to the local and national media.
Get ready to hear Colorado labeled a joke, a present-tense scandal, a colossal embarrassment, a national laughingstock. And to hear that your constituents feel more alienation and less faith in democracy.
You, and we, can only hope it doesn't come down to the wire on election night. We can only hope the presidential race isn't hanging in the balance with Colorado too close to call, amid countless reports of trouble and possible fraud across the state.
That's what could happen, Gov. Ritter. Just a few hundred misplaced votes in numerous places, adding into thousands, amid rampant uncertainty and confusion, and this election could be lost on several fronts, even the biggest race of all.
What can we do? OK, what can you do?
How about stepping in and taking action? How about appointing someone to take over as your person in charge of this election? Perhaps even a small group, representing both sides and different areas of the state.
How about ordering a total statewide audit, immediately, of all new and revised voter registrations? How about ordering that no machines be used in this election, for voting or counting?
How about ordering that every ballot must be hand-counted, no matter how much it costs, no matter how long it takes? How about guaranteeing a fair, scrupulously clean election in Colorado so that whatever the outcomes, we'll know they're honest?
This is not just an isolated problem. This is a virus ready to spread like a pandemic, with lawyers from both parties descending upon Colorado like locusts. We hope you'll take a close look at what's happening and do what you have to do.
Gov. Ritter, the time has come for you, as CEO of our state, to take the steps necessary to ensure every registered voter can participate and every vote is counted. You must intervene and deal with this situation now, because nobody else will.
The ball's in your court, Gov. Ritter. The next move is yours.
Thanks for your consideration,
Executive editor, Colorado Springs Independent