Shruti Rana on screen at the Aug. 5, 2021 board of election meeting.
In this file photo from the third week of January 2020, Monroe County’s Election Central space is shown as it undergoes renovation.
The old Johnson Hardware building at 7th and Madison streets (aka Election Central).
At Thursday’s regular meeting of Monroe County’s election board, one of the highlights was a briefing from county clerk Nicole Browne on an upcoming conversation she’s requested with Monroe County’s three county commissioners.
The idea that Browne will be pitching to commissioners at next week’s Aug. 11 work session is one with a history stretching back over a half decade—more room for the elections division.
The elections division currently shares space with the probation department in the old Johnson Hardware building at Madison and 7th streets.
Based on the history of the topic, commissioners won’t be eager to allocate more space to the election division. They approved the funds for a renovation to the building in early 2020 that was, in part, supposed to relieve some of the need for additional space.
Joining her first meeting of the three-member election board on Thursday was Shruti Rana, who was picked to succeed Carolyn VandeWiel as the Democratic Party appointee. The board consists of a Democrat, a Republican (Hal Turner), and the current county clerk.
Jack Davis, wearing his Election Day shirt and a lei, addresses the group assembled to honor his retirement on Thursday.
From left: Jack Davis and Hal Turner. Davis is receiving the 3-D printed toilet paper remembrance that Turner fabricated for him.
3-D printed remembrance on the occasion of Jack Davis’s retirement.
Monroe County’s clerk, Nicole Browne, told The B Square on Thursday afternoon: “There is no replacing a Jack. He is one-of-a-kind. He is amazing. And I will miss him every single day. Every single day.”
Browne was talking about Jack Davis, a county employee whose retirement was marked Thursday at a reception held by his colleagues at Election Central, where he has worked for the election division.
Thursday was the six-year anniversary of Davis’s most recent span of service in local government—he started that half-dozen year stretch on the same day as county election supervisor Karen Wheeler.
At its meeting last Thursday, Monroe County’s three-person election board got an update on the state election division’s effort to update voter registration rolls, with a postcard mailing.
Registered voters should have received a postcard mailing in late May, confirming their registration to vote at the address where the postcard was delivered. Registration can also be confirmed online. [It’s the “Check Voting Status” option.]
The registration confirmation postcards are part of the state’s process for reducing outdated voter records. For people who receive an accurate card with their name on it, no action is requested.
Election officials want people who received a postcard with a name they don’t recognize to write “Return to Sender” on the card and put it in a mailbox.
As the Indiana General Assembly passes its halfway mark, several bills have not met their required milestones to get further consideration.
One of them was HB 1288, which deals with election security. It was sponsored by Representative Ryan Lauer, a Republican whose District 59 covers most of Bartholomew County, including the city of Columbus.
The bill got a mention at an early-February meeting of Monroe County’s election board, as part of county clerk Nicole Browne’s rundown of pending legislation. It got a second look, because of its requirement that voting systems store votes “as a whole number, without the use of decimals or fractions.”
Browne told her two colleagues on the three-person board: “I don’t want anybody to be alarmed in Monroe County. We have never reported out our votes in anything but whole numbers.” Browne ventured, “So something’s going on in some other county. And I would not take that as a fire alarm in Monroe County.”
Not a part of Monroe County’s election board meeting on Thursday was the expected hearing for a voter who is said to have displayed campaign material for his preferred candidate inside the polls during early voting last October.
The complaint that was filed with the board said he was wearing a COVID-19 mask, with the name of his preferred presidential candidate, reportedly Donald Trump. The voter refused to swap to a different mask or turn his own inside out.
He was still allowed to cast a ballot, because state law does not allow election officials to prevent someone from voting.
Thursday’s board meeting included a report on a survey of people who worked the polls for the 2020 elections. The survey showed mostly positive results.
The elections also heard a review during public commentary from a voter’s perspective, given by longtime poll workers Marge and Jim Faber.
Marge Faber told the board, “As a voter, I want to tell you, that was the most fantastic voting experience I’ve ever had.” She added, “And given my age, that means over 60 years worth of voting, because I’ve never missed an election.”
After suggesting some additional signage for the Arlington Elementary School location, Faber wrapped up, saying, “Otherwise, it was fantastic. I should have written you a note earlier, and I forgot.” Thursday’s board meeting marked Faber’s 88th birthday.
At Thursday’s meeting, the chairship of the three-member board transitioned from one party’s appointee to the other, in a longstanding mutually-agreed tradition. Republican Party appointee Hal Turner, who chaired the board in 2020, passed the virtual gavel to Democratic Party appointee Carolyn VandeWiele. The third member of the board is the Monroe County clerk, who is currently Nicole Browne.
In his introductory remarks, Turner commented on the previous day’s events in Washington D.C. when pro-Trump rioters had stormed the Capitol.
“Yesterday, we saw not just an illegal act by 52 people who invaded the Capitol building, but also a gross insult to our democracy and the republic that makes our form of democracy possible,” Turner said.
Monroe County’s election board could eventually wind up conducting an investigation of unlawful electioneering by a voter at the early in-person polls.
The voter has been described as wearing a COVID-19 mask with a candidate’s name printed on it, inside the polling location at Election Central, while voting was taking place. The voter, who was allowed to cast a ballot, refused to swap to a different mask or turn his own inside out.
That appears to be a violation of Indiana’s state election law, which says that electioneering is not allowed inside a polling place.
The definition of electioneering 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]
It was an election worker who gave the county election board a report on the matter at its Monday morning meeting, which was held to square away any remaining issues before Election Day.
Depending on the outcome of the investigation, the voter could wind up charged with committing a Class A misdemeanor, according to Matthew Kochevar, who is co-general counsel for the Indiana Election Division.
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 and a fine, the county election board could investigate the electioneering allegation at a public meeting of the board under[ IC 3-6-5-31], Kochevar wrote in an emailed message to The Square Beacon. The election board could then vote to forward the matter to the county prosecutor under [IC 3-6-5-32], as a violation of the electioneering statute, Kochevar said.
Monroe County election board chair Hal Turner holds a knob turner that he 3D-printed in connection with the election board’s effort to improve accessibility of polling sites.
Genesis Church concrete apron. Where the concrete apron meets the wall in the left of the frame gives a good idea of the steepness of the slope that has the Monroe County election board concerned about accessibility of the site as a polling location.
By next Tuesday, Monroe County’s three-member election board needs to decide the final locations of polling sites for the Nov. 3 general election.
One of the sites has a steep concrete slope leading to an entrance. Board members are trying to figure out how to make it accessible for people who use wheelchairs to get around.
Another key consideration for poll site selection is the amount of space available for creating adequate distance between voters, to reduce chances of spreading the COVID-19 virus.
At the last couple Tuesday afternoon election board meetings, which are planned weekly until further notice, board members have discussed site selection issues.
The reduced number of polling sites that Monroe County used for the June 2 primary is not a part of current planning for November voting. That’s the latest word from the county election board’s meeting last Thursday.
For the general election, the county election board is looking to use all its regular sites and maybe more, not just the seven it selected for the primary from the 34 that it typically uses.
That’s because it was only for the primary election that no-excuse absentee voting was approved by the state’s election commission this spring—during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A larger number of absentee voters means fewer people at the polls on election day.
No-excuse absentee voting is unlikely to be enacted for this year’s general election, based on Indiana governor Eric Holcomb’s remarks at his press conference last Wednesday.