Election board roundup: Monroe county election supervisor resigns; board adopts stricter fine policy

At Monroe County’s election board meeting last Thursday, election supervisor Karen Wheeler announced she had resigned her position.

“Today will be my last election board meeting, since tomorrow is my last day as Monroe County election supervisor,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler read aloud some prepared remarks recounting her time serving as election supervisor, which included eight elections.

Chair of the three-member election board, Donovan Garletts, told Wheeler after her remarks, “I can probably say this on behalf of the current and past board members: Thank you for your service. And wish you the best.”

Wheeler had wrapped up her remarks by saying, “And I am hopeful that my next step will be to continue as a Monroe County employee.”

Immediately after the meeting, responding to a question from The B Square, Monroe County clerk Nicole Browne said that for Wheeler’s replacement, she did not yet have a name that she was able to share.

Later on Thursday, responding to a question from the B Square, Wheeler elaborated on her concluding statement at the meeting, by saying that her departure was voluntary, but only in the sense that she had resigned the position.

Wheeler added that she’d been given a choice by Browne—either resign or be “let go.”

Wheeler said that on Jan. 4, she had “negotiated” her departure for 30 days from that date, to give herself some time to look for another position with Monroe County government.

The B Square was not able to reach Browne last Friday. But Browne responded to an emailed question from The B Square early Monday, declining to comment on the specifics of Wheeler’s departure.

Browne put it like this: “I don’t have any formal comment regarding Karen Wheeler’s departure. On January 4, 2023, Karen Wheeler informed me of her resignation.”

Browne’s emailed reply continued, “[Wheeler] followed it up with a confirmation letter on January 10, 2023, and it was accepted.”

Browne added her appreciation for Wheeler’s service: “We thank Karen for her years of service to the Monroe County Clerk’s Office as Election Supervisor and wish her well in her new role.”

In her prepared remarks to the election board, Wheeler alluded in a general way to some of the difficulties of last year’s November general election, which include delayed reporting of counts from around 6,600 ballots.

The counts from those ballots were not added into the overall tally on election night as they should have been. The tallies were from ballots that were cast during the early voting period.

On the Wednesday morning following Election Day, The B Square spoke with Monroe County deputy clerk Tressia Martin and Wheeler about the cause for the reporting glitch.

Martin said she had missed making the data transfer for one of the digital storage drives with scanned voting information from early voting ballots.

When Martin woke up in the middle of the night, and realized her mistake, first thing the next morning, she and Wheeler together unlocked the ballot room, located the digital storage drive, and made the data transfer.

Unlocking the ballot room is something only two people, one from each party can do as a pair. Martin, a Democrat, and Wheeler, a Republican, satisfy that statutory requirement.

Some sources have analyzed Wheeler’s departure as the consequence of the delayed tallies from the 6,600 ballots.

In her remarks, Wheeler gave a definition of a successful election, which she attributed to Drew Stewart, who is the onsite project manager Hart Intercivic, the manufacturer of Monroe County’s voting equipment: “Every election will have problems, but a successful election is one that the problem is identified, a plan is created, and then that plan is executed. Every voter gets to vote.”

Based on that definition, Wheeler said, “I have had eight successful elections.”

On Friday last week, when Wheeler sent to an email list the final daily notification of the new candidate filings for the 2023 municipal elections—Friday was the deadline—she included a note saying it was her final day as election supervisor.

Several people used the reply-all function to thank Wheeler.

From Lois Sabo-Skelton: “Thank you, Karen—for your incredible service.” From Natalia Galvan, “Thank you for all you do! I so appreciate your work and commitment to our county. ” From William Ellis: “Agree. We are going to miss you.” From Joe Davis: “Please continue to share your wit, and talent.”

From Monroe County Democratic Party chair David Henry, “Thank you again for your service and stewardship of our elections over the past few years.”

Henry  is an interim member of the election board, but was not present for last Thursday’s meeting. Cory Ray, served as Henry’s proxy.

Henry is serving as interim self-appointee to the election board, after the resignation of Shruti Rana, who could not longer serve, given her candidacy for a District 5 Bloomington city council seat.

The Republican Party’s appointee to the board is Donovan Garletts. Rounding out the three-member election board was Browne, who serves on the board under state law as Monroe County clerk.

New policy on fines for missed campaign finance filing deadlines

One piece of business that the board wrapped up at Thursday’s meeting was the adoption of a new policy on fines for candidates who fail to meet the filing deadlines for campaign finance forms.

The old policy, which was replaced, imposed no fine for a first or second offense. And for a third offense, the old policy assessed just 25 percent of the maximum allowed under state statute, which is $50 per day of lateness, up to $1,000.

Under the new policy, a first offense still is not fined at all. But a second offense is punished with 50 percent of the statutory maximum, and a third offense gets the full statutory punishment of $50 per day up to a maximum of $1,000.

Last Thursday, two candidates who did not file their annual 2022 reports by the Jan. 18 deadline were assessed fines—under the old policy.

Hans Kelson, a candidate for Benton Township board, was six days late this year, and he had logged two prior offenses. That meant he faced a $75 fine (0.25*50*6).

Kelson appeared in front of the board to acknowledge the infraction. “I was in the middle of changing jobs,” Kelson said, adding, “And it just slipped right through the cracks and I didn’t get it done.”

Ray was inclined to forgive the fine, because Kelson was in front of the board, owning up to the fact that he missed the deadline.

But Browne questioned Ray’s approach, given that the reason for the new policy was that candidates did not take the deadlines seriously under the old policy. The board was still operating under the old policy and even under that policy, Kelson was supposed to be fined.

Browne put it like this: “So I’m struggling with: What does the policy mean, if we don’t do something?”

Garletts said he would be “quite by the book” in his vote. The board voted unanimously to impose the $75 fine. Kelson’s take on it was: “I completely agree. I think I should pay the fine.”

The other candidate, who was fined $25 for being two days late, on her third offense, was Thelma Jeffries, who was a candidate for Clear Creek Township trustee.