Election board denies signature challenge by independent Bloomington mayoral hopeful

Joe Davis will not appear on the Nov. 7 Bloomington mayoral ballot, unless he prevails in a lawsuit—which he told Monroe County’s election board that he intends to file.

Davis’s remarks came at a Thursday meeting of the three-member election board.

At Thursday’s meeting, board members voted unanimously to deny the challenge Davis had filed, over disqualified signatures that appeared on his petition for ballot access as an independent candidate.

It means that barring a successful lawsuit by Davis, Democrat Kerry Thomson will be the only person whose name appears on the Nov. 7 ballot for Bloomington mayor.

Davis collected over 600 signatures, but the number that were disqualified left him 14 short of the 352 he had to collect.

Davis told the board he wanted to see “a just and fair interpretation of the signatures that I have turned in through my petitions.”

The number of required signatures (352) is not a nice round figure, because the minimum number is defined under state law as 2 percent of the total votes cast in the city of Bloomington in the most recent statewide race for secretary of state.

Davis filed his signature challenge using a CAN-1 form. It is a form that can be used by “a candidate seeking to contest the denial of certification due to insufficient signatures.”

Under state law, petitions have to be signed by registered voters who live in Bloomington. A signature can be disqualified for various reasons—like the fact it was made by someone who is registered to vote, but not in the city of Bloomington.

The kind of disqualification that is likely at the center of Davis’s situation are signatures of “pending voters”—people whose registration was still pending and not yet active. Indiana’s voter registration guide says that a voter has to wait seven days after a postcard is mailed to the address where they registered, before they become an active voter.

The 7-day waiting period, during which someone is a “pending voter” is also spelled out in state election law [IC 3-7-33-5]

In his remarks to the board on Thursday, Davis said, “There, for sure, is an issue where voter registrations in their validation, create a point of pending status and a limbo-ness that is disenfranchising my supporters, in their quest to be able to put the candidate of their choice on the ballot.”

As a part of Davis’s effort to gather signatures, he helped people fill out voter registration applications, and turned them in, so that they could sign his petition.

One of the people Davis helped register to vote appeared at Thursday’s board meeting to speak on his behalf.

Rebecca Haviland told the board she was speaking for the homeless—she is currently living at the Friend’s Place shelter. “Joe helped me to get registered as a voter,” Haviland said. She continued, “He has helped others—he’s willing to sit down and be patient.” Haviland added, “That’s an act of love, showing empathy toward people, being patient with them.”

Davis turned in petition signatures in several batches, starting in April. He also turned in a handful just a minute before the June 30 noon deadline.

After Davis’s allotted time for presentation on Thursday, Monroe County Democratic Party board appointee David Henry asked Davis, “What is it you’re seeking at this point?”

Davis replied that he wanted all 600 signatures that he turned in to be “re-run.” That is, he wanted the signatures re-checked. The idea is that many of the signatures that were disqualified, would by now have completed the 7-day waiting period for the person’s signature to be certifiable as registered to vote.

The 7-day waiting period, during which someone is a “pending voter” is also spelled out in state election law [IC 3-7-33-5]

Election office staff evaluated the signatures as Davis turned them in, based on the status of the person in the system—at the time staff tried to validate them as an active registered voter.

The way the election office staff processed the signatures—evaluating the status of the voter at the time of processing—follows state election law. [IC 3-8-6-8] The law says that staff have to certify that “each petitioner is a voter at the residence address listed in the petition at the time the petition is being processed.”

In her remarks and questions she put to Davis, Monroe County clerk Nicole Browne stressed the fact that Indiana does not have same-day voter registration. Browne, a Democrat, serves on the election board, because she is the county clerk.

If Indiana did have same-day voter registration, then Davis’s strategy of turning in voter registration applications and petition signatures might have played out in a way that put him on the ballot.

Judith Benckart, the Monroe County Republican Party appointee to the board, told Davis: “There is only so much this board can do.” Benckart reiterated Browne’s point that the voter registration would not be valid on the same day the application is turned in.

Browne quoted from a message that she had received from Brad King, who is co-director of the Indiana Election Division: “There is no procedure set forth in state law for you to re-examine the registration status of individuals whose voter registration application was pending, and not final, at the time you examined the petition to determine if that individual was a registered voter.”

King’s message continued, citing IC 36-1-3-8, which says that a local unit cannot “adopt an ordinance, a resolution, or an order concerning an election described by IC 3-5-1-2, or otherwise conduct an election, except as expressly granted by statute.”

Based on King’s message, the election board does not have the authority to adopt the approach that Davis wants now to see unfold—a re-examining of the 600 petition signatures.

Responding to Davis’s mention of just and fair elections, election board chair David Henry said, “I am obviously sensitive to the idea of just and fair elections.” He continued, “And any commentary about the disenfranchisement of voters has, at least from my seat, my attention…” Henry added, “What I’m stuck with is the remedies that are available to a petitioner seeking ballot access as an independent candidate.”

Henry also indicated that those people Davis helped register to vote, but might have had their petition signatures disqualified due to the 7-day waiting period, would still be eligible to vote in the Nov. 7 election—for other candidates.

Henry told Davis, “I empathize with where you’re at—in that the code, as written, makes the hurdle for an independent candidate to seek office different than the party structures that allow ballot access.”

Henry also indicated that for some offices, ballot access for partisan candidates is also by petition signatures. “That’s why many campaigns will submit three or four times the amount of signatures they need,” he said.

Despite his sympathy for Davis’s situation, Henry said, “I have a hard time finding a remedy, especially based under the advisement from Indiana Election Division.”

Davis told the board towards the conclusion of his presentation that if he were not granted his requested remedy—of re-examining the 600 signatures that he collected—he would be looking to pursue legal action in Monroe County circuit court.

Davis indicated that local civil rights attorney William Morris would be assisting him. Davis also said he had reached out to the Indiana chapter of the ACLU.

One thought on “Election board denies signature challenge by independent Bloomington mayoral hopeful

  1. Too me, no civil rights are violated and petitioning for reexamination is like a kick against the goad.

Comments are closed.