The following profile, the last of three of the candidates for Indiana secretary of state, was written by Indiana journalists Steve Hinnefeld and Barb Berggoetz for The Indiana Citizen.
October 20, 2022
Jeffrey Maurer sees a chance to make his mark in his first run for elected office. As a Libertarian running for secretary of state – an unusually crucial race for third parties in Indiana – he’s not as entirely focused as his Republican and Democratic opponents are on the plurality of the vote needed to win.
The Libertarian Party of Indiana broke through in 2020 when its candidate for governor, Donald Rainwater, won 11.4% of the vote. Maurer hopes he can do better than that, but at least reach the 10% mark that would result in the Libertarian Party, which has nominated its candidates in convention, to be included on the May primary election ballot.
The history of primary elections in Indiana extends back to 1916, and vote tallies are not available for the earliest, but it would be the first appearance by a third party on a primary ballot since the state began nominating the majority of its candidates by popular vote more than 50 years ago, according to a survey of state political historians.
Primary ballot access would give the state party access to its voters’ names and addresses – helpful with recruiting and fundraising. Libertarians have attained that status in some other states.
“Winning is a goal, but winning is a long shot. But there’s a pathway there. Ten percent, I think, is far more likely,” Maurer said during an interview at the Martinsville Fall Foliage Festival over the roar of the Pharaoh’s Fury Ride. “That’s why I’m out here doing that work, because that’s how we win.”
The secretary of state race also is crucially important to third parties because, by law, it’s deemed the general election ballot access race. To get candidates on general election ballots for the next four years, the secretary of state candidate must earn at least 2% of the vote. Falling below that level requires all candidates to collect signatures equivalent to 2% of the turnout.
Libertarians have maintained that ballot access in Indiana since 1994 – something Maurer needs to defend.
A recent poll of 600 likely voters, sponsored by political commentator Abdul-Hakim Shabazz’s website Indy Politics and conducted by ARW Strategies, gives him hope: He came in at 7%, with 25% undecided in this race. Democratic candidate Destiny Wells polled at 36% and Republican candidate Diego Morales polled at 32%, with a margin of error of 4%..
Maurer – at 40, an entrepreneur and an information technology specialist from New York who has lived in Carmel since 2013 – looks at the unusually high percentage of undecided voters and senses voter frustration and qualms about the major party candidates.
“We have, I believe, a center mass of Hoosiers,’’ he said, “common-sense Hoosiers who are just exhausted with all the name-calling, all the bickering, all the fighting, all the stagnation and ultimately, all the status quo.”
Maurer’s low name recognition and a lack of significant campaign finances hamstring his campaign. But while his party fights for recognition, the major party candidates face formidable challenges of their own.
Wells, an attorney and lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, needs to earn support from independents and moderate Republicans to win the office no Democrat has won for 32 years. Morales has had to deal with controversies over his depiction of his military career and his job history in the secretary of state’s office, as well as sexual misconduct allegations regarding his behavior toward two female Republican co-workers 15 years ago. Morales adamantly denied the allegations.
Maurer, development officer for Students For Liberty, a national libertarian advocacy organization whose member base is college students, contends the percentage of undecided voter indicates “a lot of uncertainty around the candidates, and Hoosiers who have been faithful, consistent Republican voters are seeing concerns in their candidate and are assessing their options.”
While he recognizes Indiana is largely a red state, he said, “This is an exceptional year. We have exceptional pressure on elections that you saw in 2020. Who better than a third party to come in and be the adult in the room with the most critical foundational component of our democratic republic?”
Maurer thinks his support will come from voters who are fed up with Republicans and Democrats, especially Republicans turned off by Morales.
That’s exactly the scenario that concerns Morales supporters like William Ellis, an Ellettsville Town Council member and former Monroe County GOP chairman. The conservative base is solidly behind the party’s nominee, he said; but he worries “establishment Republicans” could defect to Maurer.
“I do think it’s going to be a close race, absolutely,” Ellis said. “I think having that third party Libertarian in there could potentially peel enough votes off to get Destiny Wells in.”
Maurer’s campaign has focused on two policy proposals that he hopes resonate with people who seek election accountability and security. Maurer wants to provide voters with a paper “receipt” that shows they voted so they can trace their ballots through the tabulation process. And he wants to require audits of election results in all 92 counties.
On other policy matters, he wants to improve training for election workers, favors a ranked choice voting system and strongly disapproves of straight ticket voting and Indiana’s current redistricting process. He led a 2021 Libertarian initiative that called for Indiana to adopt a nonpartisan redistricting commission.
Linda Hanson, co-president of the Indiana League of Women Voters, said auditing all 92 counties is not needed.
“You only need to audit if there’s a reason to suspect problems,’’ she said. “Paper ballots would provide confidence that you can audit.”
The league favors paper ballots that are fed into optical scanners for counting, but not counting ballots by hand, as Morales has proposed.The league believes hand-counting can introduce errors, Hanson said, adding Maurer’s idea of a receipt may not provide a long-lasting, reliable record.
“That’s what paper ballots and optical scanners are for,” Hanson said.
Maurer stressed that receipts and audits are needed to restore confidence in election results – and encourage people to vote. Receipts, with unique ballot numbers and security codes, will let voters see their vote has been received and counted and then audited, similar to tracking a package, he said.
“That’s the same confidence, trust and transparency that I want for our votes,” he said.
The audits Maurer recommends would be conducted in all 92 counties, not just the five counties audited now. He contends the current system is flawed because the company conducting it selects the counties and races to be audited and the audits are not publicly released.
Wells has been critical of Maurer’s proposals for paper receipts and a 92-county audit. She says they focus attention on unfounded worries about election insecurity and fraud, rather than on improving voting accessibility and participation.
During the league debate in mid-October, she took issue with Maurer’s argument that elections are “broken” because a lot of people think the 2020 presidential election was rigged.
“As secretary of state, we must be operating from a fact-based, evidence-based place. Yes, we have a problem with trust, but it’s because we’ve been living through the last year of perpetuating the ‘big lie’,” she said, speaking of former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claim that his election was stolen.
Maurer said he considers the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections as failed elections because the losers said the elections were rigged or the process was unfair. He pointed to the insurrection by Trump’s supporters on Jan. 6, 2021, on the Capitol Building as evidence of what a failed election can cause.
“It’s not about the party or it’s not about that candidate, it’s about the process,” Maurer said. “It means we need to bolster our elections to give all of us, especially the losing party and candidate, the confidence to accept their loss.”
Hanson, with the League of Women Voters, contended the reason Indiana elections are “broken” is because gerrymandering has eliminated competition. “We’ve got safe districts, so the real election occurs in the primaries. You tend to get people who are further to the right or further to the left selecting candidates. Voters will say, ‘this person doesn’t represent me’ and they don’t vote,” she said.
She said league members are “really appalled” by the state’s low turnout. The organization supports longer voting hours, more accessible vote centers and easier registration processes, she said.
What does Maurer think about some of the measures undertaken in other states to increase turnout?
In responses to a candidate questionnaire distributed to Morales, Wells, and Maurer by The Indiana Citizen, he said he favors no-excuse absentee voting (but only in person), automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration and is open to extending voting hours on Election Day. Other states have adopted these measures to increase voter turnout, for which Indiana consistently ranks low. In the 2021 Indiana Civic Health Index, the state ranked 46th in the nation in voter participation.
In a later interview, however, Maurer backtracked, saying he isn’t proposing – at least for now – any changes to Indiana’s early voting system, voter ID requirements, voting hours, or to the current 11 exemptions to absentee voting.
He clarified this contradiction in an email.
“No, I am not seeking to change those voting or registration practices,” he wrote. “However, once we rebuild trust in our elections through receipts, audits, and cleaning up our voter rolls, then I’m open to other ideas for increasing convenience, such as these.”
Maurer blames Indiana’s voter turnout problem on dissatisfaction with Democrats and Republicans and the lack of alternative choices.
“Think about a restaurant that has only one item on the menu, and it’s something you hate,” he said during a recent debate hosted by the League of Women Voters. “How often would you go to that restaurant?”
Maurer says he grew up in a left-of-center family, was a registered Democrat and voted Democratic for a time. But he got frustrated with single-party rule in his native New York and Democrats’ lack of action to reach their stated goals there.
His professional and educational backgrounds, personal influences, and his dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party have led him to become a Libertarian.
Born in New York City, he grew up on Long Island, where his parents still live, and moved to Carmel in early 2013. He divorced in 2020 and has a 2 ½-year-old son with his former wife.
He has a business degree from Washington University in St. Louis. At 39, Maurer enlisted in the Indiana Air National Guard in 2021. He completed basic training but has not been deployed to active duty.
Before starting his current job in 2021, he worked in marketing and branding for a clean technology company and worked in safety compliance for a trucking and transportation firm. He also started and later closed a business that used virtual reality to help people with home buying.
Maurer says he’s bullish on Indiana. The good business climate, quality and cost of living and extraordinary job opportunities in Indianapolis and Hamilton County drew him to relocate in Carmel.
“Certain soils grow certain crops, and the soil of human talent we have here in Indiana is extraordinary,” he said. “We have very entrepreneurial, innovative neighbors who can make something out of nothing.”
While working for the Noblesville trucking and transportation company, he said, he learned about risk management and addressing underlying behaviors evident in costs for crashes, injuries and fatalities.
“This is the same kind of risk management discipline that I want to bring into our election process,” said Maurer. “I want to get the fundamentals right, so that the outcome is better. None of this is rocket science, it’s all just best practices.”
After his divorce, Maurer said, he took six months in 2020 to think about what he wanted to accomplish in life.
“I needed to align my passions with my daily activities,” he said. “So, it was clear to me I needed to be in the Libertarian movement.”
Maurer describes himself as a “pragmatic libertarian,” someone who wants to limit the size and reach of government in people’s daily lives but isn’t looking to abolish it.
“Through those frustrations and several friends who were on their own Libertarian journeys, I started my own,” he said, referring to his move from being a Democrat. Initially, he voted for individual Libertarians, then got active in the party’s state office and with candidates’ campaigns. For a year, he was chief of staff and then deputy campaign manager for Mark Rutherford’s 2018 race for secretary of state.
He also worked on the 2020 campaign of Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Rainwater, who finished a strong third and outpolled the Democratic candidate in some rural counties. Rainwater, of Nineveh, capitalized on conservative anger about Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb’s COVID-19 restrictions.
Rainwater said he came to admire and respect Maurer as a thoughtful, intellectually inquisitive and patriotic person who is committed to being the best public servant he can be.
Now helping with Maurer’s campaign, he said Maurer would make an excellent secretary of state because of his entrepreneurship endeavors, information technology experience, and his commitment to doing solid research to find good solutions, for example, for redistricting and election integrity.
“He doesn’t just take whatever the prevailing winds are providing,” Rainwater said. “He actually does the research and digs down to figure out where are the cracks in the cement and the flaws in the armor and what we can do to improve those things.”
Maurer excels in one-on-one conversations and communicating in small crowds, says Rainwater. “He’s a very engaging individual. He’s not necessarily overpowering. He doesn’t walk in a room and suck all the air out of it.”
Evan McMahon, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Indiana, met Maurer in early 2018 and soon found out he is very goal-oriented, analytical and has a passion for improving Indiana’s election system. They worked together on several Libertarian candidates’ campaigns to develop strategies and marketing plans. The two traveled the state while McMahon was running for chairman and created 24 new Libertarian county parties, mostly in 2021.
“This was definitely a huge leap for us,” said McMahon, of Indianapolis, who works in media placements and digital marketing.
In late 2020, McMahon suggested to Maurer that he run for secretary of state. Maurer first responded he wanted to continue to help others run for office. Within a few weeks, though, Maurer agreed and soon started his campaign.
Now, with less than a month before the election, Maurer says he’ll continue his “aggressive” campaigning, reaching as many people as possible at events, party functions and one-on-one meetings. He recently started targeted radio ads on 50 stations.
Maurer recognized being at a “significant disadvantage” in raising funds, however. His campaign had raised less than $60,000 through September compared to several hundred thousand dollars for his major party opponents, according to reports filed this week.
With the national attention on “election deniers,” Maurer said one of the important questions all secretary of state candidates need to address is: At what point would you not certify an election? “My pledge is that I will neither blindly certify an election, nor will I blindly reject an election.
“I’m going to assess the facts. I’m going to assess the evidence, and I’m going to rely on the advice of our experts, predominantly the county clerks,” he said. “I’m going to do the job, as crazy as that sounds, of secretary of state.”
Steve Hinnefeld is a freelance writer based in Bloomington. He formerly was an adjunct instructor at the Media School at Indiana University, a media specialist at Indiana University and reporter for the Bloomington Herald-Times.
Barb Berggoetz is a freelance writer based in Bloomington. She was a longtime government, education and health reporter for The Indianapolis Star and other Midwest daily newspapers and formerly an adjunct instructor at The Media School at Indiana University Bloomington.