Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Kickin' Marion County Clerk Beth White

Today the Indianapolis Star reports that Republican Chairman Tom John criticized Democrat Marion County Clerk Beth White for running a poor election citing as proof the recent discovery of 446 uncounted absentee ballots in the Clerk's Office.

Let me say from the outset, I do not think there is a more difficult job than that of Marion County Clerk, a job I ran for and lost in the Republican primary of 2002. The Clerk is stuck with an antiquated voting system that requires thousands of volunteers to show up at 6 a.m. on Election Day and do their job all day long with very little pay. It's a system where failure is inevitable, especially in these times when civic volunteerism is low and expectations are high.

That's before you get to the job of handling the court filings in all the Marion County Courts. Again, you have an antiquated system. Every day mounds and mounds of paper are created. When I talked to a former Marion County Clerk before running in 2002, she told me there was no backup system for the closed files stored in the basement of the City-County Building. A fire down there, and the only record of those cases gets wiped out permanently.

Returning to elections though, I think honesty about job performance would be welcome. The fact is while Democrat Beth White's election performance wasn't perfect, most certainly neither was Republican Doris Anne Sadler. Does anyone remember running out of ballots in many precincts during one of Sadler's elections? It is because of that mistake that poll workers today receive about twice as many ballots as voters in their precincts, which unvoted ballots we have to lug all the way back downtown.

Where I would fault White and Sadler is when they use their office in a partisan way. I see the Clerk's job as being similar to being a judge. You approach the election in an objective, fair matter and do not bend the rules so that your party has an unfair advantage. Sadler was being partisan in the ballot design dispute of a few years ago and White was being partisan in failing to purge non-voters as required by federal and state law.

Beth White has a chance in the upcoming legislative session to push for a reform that will greatly improve voting in Marion County: the adoption of voting centers to replace the precinct polling place system that dates from the days of the horse and buggy. It will be interesting to see if White takes on this needed reform and whether Tom John and the rest of the Marion County Republicans leadership support it. The time for voting centers has come. Instead of engaging in partisan games, maybe it is time for the parties to come together and adopt a reform that is in the best interests of the voters of Marion County and those hard-working individuals who staff the polls every election.

No comments: