Mystery man with political campaign mask at polls motivates election board to develop procedure to document incidents

Monroe County’s election board isn’t able to pursue the case of a voter who reportedly engaged in electioneering at the polls during early voting in October last year.

That’s because the board doesn’t know who the man is.

At its Thursday meeting, the board reviewed some initial work on a procedure for documenting future potential incidents of electioneering, so that the people involved can be identified.

At its Thursday meeting, the board also wrapped up the remaining open issue with late campaign finance forms from the last election cycle, which resulted in the calculation of a $900 fine for a candidate.

Under the board’s policy, that got knocked down to 25 percent of the allowable amount, which is $225.

The electioneering issue was old business, carried over from a couple of previous meetings.

To protect against the spread of the coronavirus, the man was reportedly wearing a mask, which included a message in support of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

The voter reportedly refused to swap to a different mask or turn his own inside out.
That’s a violation of Indiana election law, which prohibits electioneering at the polls or in the “chute,” which is “the area or pathway that extends fifty (50) feet in length, measured from the entrance to the polls.”

The current definition of electioneering under Indiana statute includes “expressing support or opposition to any candidate” and “wearing or displaying an article of clothing, sign, button, or placard that states the name of any political party or includes the name, picture, photograph, or other likeness of any currently elected federal, state, county, or local official.” [IC 3-14-3-16]

The bi-partisan three-member board was inclined to see the man prosecuted for the violation, about which a formal complaint was filed. But the board was not able to go after him, because his identity was not documented at the time of the incident.

The man was allowed to vote, because the right to vote can’t be denied because of electioneering.

But after investigation by the election board, a request for prosecution could be made to the county prosecutor. And the voter could wind up being charged with committing a Class A misdemeanor. The punishment for a Class A misdemeanor is up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

To get to an outcome involving jail time or a fine, the county election board could investigate the electioneering allegation at a public meeting of the board under [IC 3-6-5-31].  The election board could then vote to forward the matter to the county prosecutor under [IC 3-6-5-32].

At Thursday’s meeting, election board member Hal Turner reviewed some of the effort that had been made to identify the man who prompted the incident. Turner is the Republican Party’s representative to the election board.

Turner said he reached out through the election supervisors of both parties, and got a list of everyone who worked the early voting polls. He then emailed all of those people asking for any information they had about the incident.

One person came forward and said they’d witnessed the incident, but didn’t have any information. Another person came forward and said they’d participated in the incident, but did not have the name of the person who committed the infraction.

Turner concluded, “And so based on that, and the fact that nobody else came back with any information whatsoever, I don’t feel we can pursue this individual incident any further.”

The board’s work on a form that can be filled out to document such incidents was postponed at Thursday’s meeting, because of some pending legislation being considered by Indiana’s General Assembly this session.

The legislation is HB 1485 which has been passed by the House, amended and passed by the Senate, and now has been sent back to the House in amended form.

Among other things, the bill refines the definition of “electioneering” and adds language prohibiting making verbal statements, displaying certain written statements, or the display of support for the approval or defeat of a public question and electioneering before election day in specified locations.

Carolyn VandeWiele, the Democratic Party’s representative to the election board, said, “I think until the legislature ends and we know the fate of this particular bill, we should hold off on developing the policy.” She added, “So I think we’ll take this up again, perhaps in May, once we find out what the fate of this particular bill is.”

The fine the board assessed for a late campaign finance filing was against Monroe circuit court judge Valeri Haughton, who was unopposed in her re-election. Under the board’s policy, a first and second infraction gets a warning, but a fine gets imposed for the third offense.

According to county election supervisor Karen Wheeler, Haughton was also late in 2014 and 2016.

According to VandeWiele, the statutory limit is $50 a day up to a maximum of $1,000 total. That meant the board had the option to impose a fine of $900 for the 18 days that Haughton was late. The form was due on October 16, and it was submitted on Nov. 2, according to VandeWiele.

But the board also has a policy of assessing just 25 percent of the allowable fine. So the board voted 3–0 to impose a $225 fine.

The third member of the election board is the county clerk, Nicole Browne, but she was not able to attend Thursday’s meeting, and was proxied by deputy clerk Tressia Martin.