Independent gubernatorial candidate Merrill Cook believes he'll be disadvantaged in the election because his name on some ballots will appear away from the other gubernatorial candidates.

He's right about that.But he blames Gov. Norm Bangerter, Lt. Gov. Val Oveson, and/or the printer who printed the ballots.

He's dead wrong here, and he should know better.

Eighteen counties still use paper ballots. It is on those ballots that Cook's name appears away from the other gubernatorial candidates. The state's larger counties, including Weber, Davis, Salt Lake and Utah, use computer ballots. On those, Cook is listed on the same card as the other gubernatorial candidates. He is happy with that.

Cook does has a real beef over where he appears on the paper ballots.

But he's making the same mistake on the ballot issue as he has at other times. He takes a legitimate wrong and piles on conspiracy theories that detract from the original complaint.

On the 18 counties' paper ballots, Cook's name appears at the bottom of a column of independent candidates. The rest of those independent candidates are strange and obscure presidential hopefuls, and it's questionable if voters will bother to read through all those names when the vast majority will vote for George Bush or Michael Dukakis.

The other gubernatorial candidates appear under their political party banner. Norm Bangerter, Republican; Ted Wilson, Democrat; Arly Pederson, American Party; and Kitty Burton, Libertarian; are on the same horizontal line, so it is easy to find and compare them.

But Cook is lower down on the ballot, off in the right-hand corner, and he has a real concern that voters will look at the other gubernatorial candidates and, not finding him, chose one of them.

Cook's claim, however, that Bangerter and Oveson conspired to put his name out of the way on the paper ballots or that the printer, Vernon Carr of Carr Printing, purposely put him there, is ridiculous.

First of all, by law the lieutenant governor only certifies to the county clerks who the true candidates are. Each county clerk is responsible for printing up his county's ballots. Bangerter and Oveson had nothing to do with where Cook's name is located.

It just so happens that most counties contract to print their ballots with Carr Printing, which has the proper presses. Some of the larger counties have their own presses, and print their own ballots.

Vernon Carr has been printing ballots for years. He's a man above reproach, and to even question Carr's motives is stupid. Carr and the clerks followed the letter of the law in locating where candidates appear on the ballot. But the letter of the law isn't always fair.

The law specifically says where independent candidates will appear on a ballot - in a column all their own. By tradition there is a hierarchy of that independent list: presidential candidates first, then U.S. Senate, Congress, governor and so on.

Cook is correct when he points to another section of the law - one that says election-law statutes should be interpreted liberally to give every candidate a fair chance - and says his name could have been printed with the other governor candidates.

Cook said he'll sue Oveson and each county clerk if the ballots aren't reprinted.

He adds that he's already talked with the Tooele County clerk and that that county's ballots will be changed and Cook's name put in the independent column but on the same horizontal line as the other gubernatorial candidates.

Cook says that as much as 30 percent of the vote could come from counties with paper ballots. Deputy Lt. Gov. Dave Hansen disputes that, saying only 12 percent of the registered voters are in those 18 counties.

Whatever the case, putting Cook's name at the bottom of the independent column, while perhaps legal, isn't right.

The county clerks should interpret the ballot statute liberally, as allowed, and put Cook on equal footing with the others.