Friday, April 20, 2012

Taxpayers Foot Bill for Marion County Party Chairmen's Denial of Voter Information to Nonslated Candidates

Two big hearings took place today, one at the Marion County Election Board and the other in Marion County Circuit Court.  Before delving into what happened at those meetings, a review of things is in order. 
Attorney and Judicial Candidate Greg Bowes
argued the case for the unslated candidates

The Marion County Board of Voter Registration has two members, Susan Mowery appointed by the Republican County Chairmen and Ladonna Freeman, appointed by the Democratic County Chairman.  The Board of Voter Registration processes registrations and keeps certain information as to voters.  Information they keep include:

Name of Voter
Address
Primary Voting History (this is the only way you tell party identification in Indiana)
Gender
Date of Birth
Voter Identification Number
Last Four Digits of social security number (except for very old registrations which might have the entire social security number)
Phone Numbers
Emails


Mark Sullivan, Democratic
Chairman Marion County
Election Board
The Board of Voter Registration packs up this information and ships the data off to the State Election Commission in the Secretary of State's Office.  The information gets maintained as part of a state voting list.  The state parties buy that information and processes it into their system, putting it in much more useful form for campaigning.  (Think walk lists, phones for phone banks, emails for mass mailings, etc.)  The state party then sells it to the county party organizations. Instead of giving the information to all candidates, the party organization in Marion County only give the information to slated candidates.  In most counties this isn't the case as as Marion County is virtually the only county in the state that has a formal slating, i.e. party endorsement, process. 

Contrary to the impression left at the Election Board meeting, the slated candidates do get all the above information form the Board of Voter Registration.  They just don't get it DIRECTLY from the Board of Voter Registration.  Meanwhile unslated candidates are left to begging the BVR for the voter information which is critical to creating walk lists and doing mailings to the party's voters.

Indiana law has an open records law.  The legislature carved out an exception that allows counties, upon the vote of the county election board, to adopt a non-discriminatory policy regarding the release  of information from the Board of Voter Registration.  In previous years, the Board of Voter Registration gave out information to unslated candidates. This year though, undoubtedly because of the numerous challenges to the slate and undoubtedly at the behest of the county chairmen who appointed the two member BVR, the decision was made to not give out any information.  The ruse finally selected for that approach was that the county election board had not adopted a policy regarding the release of the data.
Patrick J. Dietrick,
Republican Member of
Election Board
The initial interpretation by the Public Access Counselor and the City was plain silly.  You have a general open records law.  The county has the right to limit the data by adopting a nondiscriminatory policy.  If the county doesn't adopt a policy restricting access, that means the general open records law applies. Statutory Interpretation 101.

On the verge of the BVR getting ordered to release the information, the Election Board announced it would go ahead and adopt a policy at today's meeting.  It did.  Here is what the Marion County Election Board agreed to give to nonslated candidates per its new policy.

Names of registered voters
Addresses.

That's it.  Oh, and the Board put in the policy that it would only be delivered in pdf form, making it extremely difficult to process the data without extensive data entry.  The fact the Board did that speaks volumes about exactly what the intent was ...to prevent the use of any data the Board would have to provide.

If that wasn't enough, the Election Board pulled another stunt.  The Board put into the policy the provision that if their policy was found to violate the law by a court, then the Board's policy would become that no information gets released.  Not sure how the Election Board thinks it can override a judge's decision, but that's another issue.

During the Election Board hearing, Chairman Mark Sullivan, an appointee of Marion County Democratic Chairman, made the silly argument that the information needed to be restricted to protect voters' privacy.  Of course, this completely ignored the fact that the slated candidates already receive the full panoply of data including voter history, emails, phone numbers, etc.  The only people who aren't getting the information is the handful of unslated candidates who request the information.

Later in the day, Marion County Circuit Court Judge Louis Rosenberg decided against the emergency injunction but indicated that the lawsuit would be better brought as a constitutional challenge (under equal protection) against the state officials who created a law that could be applied to create two classes of candidates.  While the case is still pending, the Election Board successfully obtained a change of venue, without question for the sole purpose of running out the clock so the unslated candidates can't get the information before the election.

Attorney Greg Bowes, one of the unslated judicial candidates denied information and the attorney for the five slated litigants, including yours truly, made a terrific point when talking to the media.  Taxpayers pay the salaries and buy the equipment of county employees who gather voter information which only gets disclosed to slated candidates.

Adam Kirsch, Executive Director,
Marion County Democratic Party

I would add another point. Today, there was an attorney for the Election Board at both hearings, namely Andrew Mallon.  Paid for with our tax dollars.  There were also two attorneys from Corporation Counsel there also, Justin Roebels and Alex Will.  Their salaries are of course are paid our tax dollars.  Who were those three attorneys working for?  I can tell you it sure wasn't the taxpayers. They were there to protect the interests of the county chairmen, namely Republican Kyle Tracy and Democrat Ed Treacy, in preventing critical voter information from falling into the hands of unslated candidates.  It should also be pointed out that Treacy's wife, Judge Becky Pierson-Treacy is on the ballot this May and unslated candidates Bowes and Mark King are serious threats to push her out of the top 10 candidates who win the nomination.  If Bowes and King can't get vote information, their chances of beating the county chairmen's wife is seriously damaged.

If you don't think the attorneys and county chairmen appointees to the BVR and the Election Board were not at the hearings to do the bidding of the county chairmen, you only need to look at the audience of those two hearings.  Sitting there was none other than Adam Kirsch, executive director of the Democratic Party.  Why would Kirsch be there if this was just some technical legal issue that didn't impact the political process?  The fact is this issue was always about county chairmen using the system, and our tax dollars, to put critical voter information in the hands of slated candidates, while denying unslated candidates that same information.  It's nothing more than political corruption played out under the guise of a legal issue.  Disgraceful.

11 comments:

Jeff Cox said...

This decision is an outrage. The conduct of the board (with the very notable exception of Beth White) has been a disgrace to the electoral process and the voters of Marion County.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Beth White bailed on fairness today. She voted with the other two.

Paul K. Ogden said...

FYI, your father did a terrific story on the issue. He told the story extremely well and got all the facts exactly right. Usually I complain about reporters getting things wrong but he nailed it.

Indy Rob said...

The two classes of candidates bothers me. Can this be appealed to a federal court as a voter's rights issue?
Yeah, I recognize the irony of asking a judicial candidate this question, just curious about the answer.

Greg Bowes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Greg Bowes said...

We are evaluating our legal remedies in light of yesterday's rulings. Those remedies may include a constitutional challenge to statutes that allow some political parties and their candidates full access to the information while denying the information to their competitors. We are talking about data that is created at taxpayer expense, but is now only benefitting the political parties' handpicked candidates. The problem is that those legal remedies can not be had before the May 8 primary election. Our only real recourse now is to have the voters show up on May 8 and demand fairness by electing the candidates who are being treated unfairly by the system. Those candidates are Greg Bowes, Mark King, Paul Ogden, Zach Mulholland and Brian Cooper.

Jeff Cox said...

Paul,

He usually does. That's why he's the best reporter anywhere.

Marycatherine Barton said...

What with all these tricks being played on the five of you by the top honchos of the D and R, it is only fitting and proper that you all end up on the bench. I will be lighting a candle for you at Little Flower.

american patriot said...

I did not know that the last 4 of my SSN were public info, that's the only part someone would need in order to figure out an SSN since the first sets of digits can be easily deduced by a person's place and date of birth.

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