The challenge for Balink 

Hey you, Bob Balink, Mr. Big-Shot Clerk and Recorder. You can run, you can even hide, but you can't escape this challenge.

Bring it on, Bob. Come Tuesday, show us that your office can run an election. Do the job you were elected to do.

Yes, that's a dare. Because you've convinced me that you can't hack it. You've shown yourself to be an arrogant, self-consumed political animal.

You've tried to suppress the vote, one of your favorite tactics. You've been chastised by Gov. Bill Ritter for overstepping your authority. You've flaunted your power, hiring somebody who should have had a college degree and spent six years telling everybody he did when he didn't. You paid John Gardner $70,000 a year, made him a deputy and gave him lots of control, enough that he could wreak havoc on this election, intentionally or not. Never mind that he screwed up so badly in his last job at the secretary of state's office that it led to legal troubles. Never mind that he might've committed perjury along the way.

Way to go, Bob. You've created an atmosphere in which your capable staffers dutifully take care of business but don't always take care of people. We hear story after story from frustrated citizens after they deal with your operation, in person or on the phone.

You create controversy and shrug it off. You talk about how busy you are, but you have time for any TV camera that comes around. What are we to think?

Especially now. Leaders on both sides agreed to that forum Monday at Penrose Library, and you stiffed everyone including your allies. You sent word that you had a long-standing commitment, but we know that it ended in time. You wimped out, Bob. We also know you had time to send out boisterous e-mails to your top people within minutes after it ended. You probably watched the whole thing on TV, sitting at your desk. But you should have gone, instead of sending soldiers who could answer many questions but not the tough ones, like why you spent $1,000 for a partisan opinion from a Denver law firm to discourage college kids from voting here.

Your emissaries couldn't even answer the first question whether your office could guarantee a ballot for every voter. Your capable elections manager, Liz Olson, dodged it. When asked again, she sidestepped it a second time.

Not enough ballots for everyone? The eventual explanation, given to other media, was that 170,000 paper ballots have been ordered for Nov. 4, which might be enough. But why not have ballots for everyone, just to be sure? We're tight for money in El Paso County, so we roll the dice with our freedom to vote?

Oh, and your math looks unusual. Olson says 150,000 mail ballots have been sent, with no way to know how many will come back. Let's assume 135,000, or 90 percent. OK, but your office estimated 20,000 for early voting, and it'll be more. Perhaps 30,000. Then you were 50 percent wrong? Bad sign.

That brings us to Election Day. Olson tells us to expect maybe 100,000 more voters. This all sounds like a lot, but wait it adds up to about 265,000 in all, a 71 percent turnout. The county turnout was 68 percent in 2004, but that was for Bush-Kerry. This time should be much higher.

What if we have 300,000 voters, more like 80 percent turnout? That could mean 130,000 or more on Tuesday. Even if you have enough ballots, will they be in the right places? And how about machines?

Here's what might happen, Bob. After this, you can't say you'll be surprised.

Lots of people expect chaos Tuesday. That means incredible lines, especially in less-affluent areas where people work extra jobs and didn't vote early. That means people getting exasperated and leaving in certain precincts, while in other places there's no trouble at all. That means people in a hurry, skipping over much of the ballot after waiting so long. It means all that, and more.

Actually, you still have a chance. Prove us wrong, Bob. Print enough ballots for everyone including provisionals, because you'll probably have thousands show up to vote but with their names not on the rolls. How about putting more machines in the right places? How about stopping problems before they happen?

If you don't do all you can, you'll have to live with it. And no matter who wins, you'll be the big loser.

Just do your job, Bob. That's your challenge.



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