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Election Day stink


An estimated 1,800-2,000 partisan hawks descended on polling places across El Paso County on Election Day to make sure no funny business was going down.

But who was watching the poll watchers?

For one, early that morning, North Middle School teacher Brian Mandabach spied Eric Christen, the treasurer of School District 11, voucher zealot and anti-school bond activist, unloading from his truck campaign signs promoting Republicans George W. Bush, Pete Coors and Kent Lambert. Christen proceeded to plant the signs on school property, which on Tuesday was also a designated polling place. Mandabach decided to confront Christen.

"I asked him if he had the authority to put signs on the property. He became irate; I became irate," Mandabach said. "I asked him if [his action] wasn't tantamount to the district endorsing candidates. [Christen] said, 'It's the First Amendment, go study it.' "

Mandabach says Christen also uttered comments about "how this is just typical of D-11 teachers" and "it's outrageous that you are teaching our children."

An election volunteer came outside and asked Christen to heed the 100-foot buffer zone -- state law restricts people from electioneering within 100 feet of the entrance to polling places. Mandabach says Christen started throwing his weight around. "He said, 'I'm a school board member.' "

Christen was also a Republican poll-watcher at North Middle School on Tuesday. That means he spent the day monitoring the voting activities inside -- and so much more. A principal subsequently told a custodian to remove the illegal signs, which he did. Then, Christen threatened the custodian. "[Christen] told the young man to put [the signs] back up or he would have his job," said D-11 spokeswoman Elaine Naleski. "We have assured the janitor that he did the right thing."

Christen apologists may surmise that the elected school board member simply might not have known that district policy clearly outlaws planting campaign signs on school property. Specifically, D-11 policy prohibits any political campaigning by students, employees, candidates or the general public on district property... "including without limitation campaign speeches on district property... distributing campaign literature, and placing signs or placards relating to political campaigning on district property."

But school board President Sandy Shakes notes that in the very recent past, Christen proved himself perfectly aware of the district's policy on electioneering. During one campaign event at a D-11 school, he tossed a fit when a table was rented to folks who wanted to distribute brochures supporting a bond to raise money for schools.

Smelling the stink, Shakes drove over to North Middle School on Tuesday morning. She said she walked inside, into the area where polling was taking place, and spotted Christen. "I called him by name and he walked aggressively by me," Shakes said. "He had his typically angry face and walked by me [talking] on the phone. He left the room and walked down the hallway."

What? The poll watcher was on the phone? In the midst of where election ballots were being cast and collected?

Poll watchers are, among other things, prohibited from using cell phones, cameras, laptops and any other type of computer or recording equipment. The reason, according to El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Bob Balink, is simple. "Why would they need to use a phone in a polling place except to use it to sideline the process?"

This crucial year, election judges were instructed to ask any poll watchers violating the rules to leave the premises, Balink said. For their part, poll watchers like Christen received training and were officially certified by the county. "There are a lot of rules that guide their participation," he said. On Election Day afternoon, Balink said he had not been notified of any improprieties.

At 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Christen, in the midst of poll watching, answered a call to his cell phone from the Independent. "I'm a polling judge [sic]; I'm not supposed to talk on the phone right now," Christen said upon learning the caller was a member of the press. He told this columnist to call back in an hour.

That led Balink, the Republican clerk and recorder, to quip the following about Christen's apparent willingness to take calls while on the election time clock: "I'm sure [Christen] has caller ID and who wouldn't want to take a call from you, Cara?"

Cute answer. But an hour later, Christen did not answer a second cell phone call from the Independent seeking an explanation about his Election Day activities.

Maybe he was too busy swapping strategy with Karl Rove.


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