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10 Dems survive challenge to be on ballot

1 Independent loses challenge due to lack of signatures
10 Dems survive challenge to be on ballot
10 Dems survive challenge to be on ballot
Adam Schneider and Graylin Porter listen to Maryland Austin make her case why 10 Democrat candidates should not be allowed to be on the General Election ballot during an election board meeting Friday afternoon. <Photo by Stephanie Taylor Ferriell
By Stephanie Taylor Ferriell, Senior Staff Writer

At the end of a marathon session of the Harrison County Election Board, 10 Democratic candidates survived challenges to their candidacy for the fall General Election but an Independent candidate did not. The actions came Friday afternoon in a special meeting of the election board at the Harrison County Court House that lasted nearly three hours.

Harrison County Republican Chairman Scott Fluhr filed written challenges to the candidacy of 10 individuals nominated by Democratic Party Chairwoman Graylin Porter with identical complaints for each and to one Independent candidate whom he maintained submitted a petition that did not meet legal standards.

The challenges were filed with county clerk Sherry Brown on Wednesday, July 13.

The Democratic challenges involved two candidates for Harrison County Council — Adam Schneider (District 3) and Porter (District 4) — and the other eight were for township trustee and advisory board candidates. They were: Christina Glomb and Laura Olinger, Franklin Township Advisory Board; Leah Porter, Harrison Township trustee; Ruthanna Hart and Cheryl I. (East) Lone, Harrison Township Advisory Board; Cody Mousty, Jackson Township Advisory Board: and Wayne Jacobi and Jim Slucher, Morgan Township Advisory Board.

Fluhr’s complaint outlined procedural challenges to the filings, specifically that required notice was not made to Circuit Court Clerk Sherry Brown regarding the Democratic caucus meeting regarding filling vacancies and that required paperwork was incomplete for each candidate. The Indiana election code requires that a copy of the resolution or meeting minutes giving the chair the authority to do a direct appointment must be attached to each filing being made to fill a ballot vacancy by direct appointment.

Graylin Porter submitted a single copy of the minutes and resolution; they were not attached to each candidate’s application.

This issue was addressed in the June 2022 Election Division Dispatch, a publication provided by the Indiana Election Division. The issue was addressed in one of two “Questions of the Month” and the “each filing” requirement was underlined for emphasis.

Fluhr’s complaint included a copy of a June 2 email from Brown to both party chairs referencing the Election Division Dispatch: “Please make note of the last Q & A at the bottom of page 2.”

Graylin Porter didn’t argue with Fluhr’s argument.

“Scott’s right. What he’s saying is true,” she told the board. “That’s what happened. But my rebuttal is, the clerk accepted everything I brought in.”

Porter and Schneider cited another section of the election code that says a clerk cannot accept incomplete applications.

“It says the clerk does have to look them over and approve,” said Schneider.

Brown accepted responsibility for not noticing the paperwork was incomplete.

“I don’t want to deny it was my oversight,” she said, explaining her thought process was that of court filings. “The judge pounds in us we should accept every filing and he will make corrections. I was in court mindset, not election mindset. I want to have a full ballot. I would love for everything to be right and have a full ballot and have a bigger voter turnout. It was my error in accepting them.”

Fluhr said Brown’s actions or inactions are irrelevant.

“Any mistake by Sherry and her staff does not eliminate the mistake on your part,” said Fluhr. “It doesn’t make it acceptable, and it doesn’t change anything.”

Election board chairwoman Maryland Austin, an attorney and the Republican party representative on the board, agreed.

“In the best of all worlds, it would have been spotted,” she said, noting all those involved are humans and humans make mistakes. “ … When there are appointments by the county chair, you have to follow the law. The resolution has to be attached to each filing to show it’s legitimate, and it wasn’t.”

Election board member Nate Adams, the representative of the Democrat party, reminded the board they have worked together as a bipartisan team to make elections run smoothly.

“If it was a simple clerical mistake, why wasn’t it just brought to the clerk’s attention? There’s no motive, nothing nefarious,” he said. “The only motive I see is presenting voters a choice. Are you denying voters a choice and kicking them off the ballot because a mistake was made?”

Adams said in a recent meeting regarding another matter, the board discussed the importance of not just the letter of the law, but intent, with members agreeing to not create “higher and higher hoops for candidates to jump through.”

Austin said that situation bears little resemblance to the current issue.

“I think we have to follow the law. I’m not at all comfortable saying we have an option,” she said. “Updates go out from the election division all the time. In fact, the clerk sent out reminders to both chairs. … We follow the law or descend into chaos. We don’t get to pick and choose which statutes we’re going to follow.”

Schneider made the point that the clerk’s office didn’t follow the law either because the code states they are supposed to check candidate forms before accepting them. He said he didn’t enter the race lightly.

“It took a lot for me to decide to run. … I take this personally,” he said. “I do not want voters to have just one choice, that’s part of my reason for doing this. To be kicked out on a technicality, for a mistake, seems wrong to me. It seems like a power grab, honestly.”

Austin reiterated her stance: “You’ve got to follow the law. It’s painful, but you’ve got to do it.”

Porter said she had been researching election law and believed there was still a way for the Democratic candidates to get on the ballot.

“I will be researching this to the fullest of my ability,” she said.

The board reached a stalemate when Adams moved to reject the challenge and retain the candidates while Austin opposed and moved to find the filings not in compliance. Brown recused herself from the vote because she was personally involved and because she serves as vice chairwoman of the Harrison County Republican Party.

Porter left the meeting at that point, and the board turned to the petition issue. The complaint was that Independent candidate Jesse Sater’s petition was ineligible because it wasn’t completely filled out. Some of the signature forms cited “county council” for office sought while a couple of sheets left that line blank.

Austin said because this is not an at-large election, Sater was required to specify the district he’s seeking.

Adams said that it is just common sense that Sater would be seeking the seat for the district in which he resides — three — and that all those who signed the petition would understand that.

Even if the pages that read “county council” were acceptable, the ones that are blank are not, Austin said.

Without the 19 signatures on those pages, Sater didn’t have the required 84 signatures to be approved for the ballot.

Adams said the problem could be easily resolved by contacting those who signed to verify they knew what district Sater was seeking.

Adams moved to reject the challenge and accept Sater as a county council district 3 candidate.

Brown said she wanted to accept the filing; however, the minimum signature requirement wasn’t met.

Austin moved to accept the challenge on the basis of the two pages which had no indication of what office was sought. The motion passed 2-1 with Adams opposed.

The discussion then turned back to the 10 Democratic candidates and where the matter stood following the board’s impasse.

“It falls to circuit court,” said Austin, who said she believes the ruling would be against the candidates. “It’s in black and white. … The court will follow the law.”

Former election board member Larry Shickles was in attendance and said he hated to see 10 lawsuits filed.

“If they go through the whole process to get the same result, that’s a shame,” he said.

An election board decision, he said, is a definite answer.

The possibility of another meeting with a proxy in Brown’s place was raised. Following discussion, the board recessed the current meeting to call in a proxy. Sally Whitis arrived, and the meeting reconvened at 3:15 p.m.

Each side presented their arguments briefly to Whitis, who was familiar with the situation as she is a member of the clerk’s office staff. The possibility of closing the meeting and holding another in the near future was raised once it was discovered there was time to do so; the election code sets different time lines regarding state and local offices.

“There’s nothing worse than indecision,” said Austin. “A decision is better than kicking the ball down the road. I don’t know what will be changed by postponing a decision.”

Adams and Whitis agreed.

Austin asked for a motion.
“I think they should be on the ballot,” said Whitis. “People should have a choice if the clerk’s office inadvertently made a mistake.”

The challenge was rejected 2-1 with Austin casting the lone no vote. The candidates are eligible to appear on the General Election ballot.

Prior to the meeting adjourning at 3:45 p.m., Austin noted there is opportunity for an appeal.

Speaking after the meeting, Fluhr said, “I think election law should be followed. We will review our options. It’s important that the law be followed as written, not as intended, assumed or presumed.”