Above the desire to elect any one candidate, the Wayne County Democratic Party is committed to protecting the interests of voters and the integrity of the election process.
On October 28th we became aware of a serious discrepancy between the Indiana state statute (IC 3-11-14-30) and how Wayne County Poll Workers were being trained by the Wayne County Clerk’s office. The discrepancy was in regards to documenting the final per-precinct, per-candidate tally of votes at each polling site, prior to the election machinery being removed and taken to the Courthouse for a merged final count. The state requires a certain process to ensure that vote counts are consistent at each stage of assembling the final results. Beyond the pursuit of accuracy, following these processes is more important than ever as election officials around the country work to secure votes against tampering from malicious actors.
Shortly after learning of this concern, Party Chair Beth Harrick discussed this discrepancy with a member of the Wayne County Election Board and asked that it be rectified with the County Clerk.
Additionally, on the morning of November 3rd, Election Day, Harrick spoke with Clerk Berry and verbally confirmed that poll watchers designated by the Party would receive the initial tallies from poll workers at each vote center, at the end of Election Day.
However, later in the day at around 3 PM, it became clear from the observations of poll watchers that poll workers did not plan to complete this task. Harrick again spoke with Clerk Berry to insist that the state-mandated tally process for vote centers be followed. Clerk Berry did not agree and indicated that she would continue with plans to have poll workers remove machinery from the vote center prior to securing an initial tally. Berry cited previous election cycles where her office had not followed state statute, along with concerns about any delays in publicizing election results, as sufficient reason to again not follow those legal requirements.
After consulting with additional election law experts, Harrick again communicated in writing via email to Clerk Berry that her plans to remove election equipment without printing an initial tally were improper and against state election law.
Although the party did not receive a response or further communication from the Clerk about these concerns, our best understanding is that the Clerk subsequently did instruct poll workers to follow the required process, and that ultimately the law was followed in this matter.
Unfortunately, this was not the only challenge that voters and party representatives witnessed on Tuesday.
- Opening delays at Mount Olive and Hagerstown vote centers resulted in approximately a dozen voters leaving the polling sites without having the opportunity to cast their ballot. While the County Election Board did file a petition to extend the voting hours at Mount Olive for the appropriate amount of time, it was denied, in part, because it failed to follow statutory notice requirements. In addition, it was denied due to insufficient evidence, having failed to request the evidence and testimony of a willing and available poll watcher who had maintained detailed notes of their observations.
- Various pieces of voting equipment, particularly at Mount Olive, did not function properly or consistently throughout the day.
- Several voters inquiring about the status of their ballots were told by the Clerk’s office their ballots were rejected due to signature discrepancies, in direct opposition to the Secretary of State and court order ruling that procedure unconstitutional.
- It was discovered that the Clerk’s procedure for processing certain absentee ballots violates a federal court order, and that violation has been brought to the Clerk’s attention without response.
- The Clerk and members of her staff admitted to being unaware of other requirements and statutes issued by the state regarding elections and vote counting processes.
- Finally, despite having been advised in advance that the Wayne County Democratic Party would exercise its legal right to appoint poll watchers at all voting stations, it was clear that poll workers were unfamiliar with the role of poll watchers and interfered with their duties, a violation of Indiana election law.
We believe that conducting fair, accessible elections with transparency and integrity is essential to our democracy. The residents of Wayne County should not accept any behavior that might lead to voter disenfranchisement or that damages the public’s trust in the outcome. We call on the Wayne County Clerk’s office to provide a full, public, in-depth accounting of the events of this Election Day including the specifics of any challenges, problems, errors, misunderstandings or delays of any kind. We ask that in doing so the Clerk’s office withhold any personal commentary that might downplay the seriousness of any such issues, and instead release the information in the spirit of informing the public and ensuring the quality and integrity of future elections in our community.