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ELECTION 2022: SECRETARY OF STATE

Sheila Kennedy commentary: A down-ballot threat

August 1, 2022

A recent article from Time Magazine highlighted yet another threat to American democracy–and this particular threat is especially worrisome, because it involves political contests that voters rarely focus on. In our highly polarized era, most voters no longer split their tickets, and few even bother to look “down ballot”–beyond the more publicized races to local contests.

That lack of attention could be especially costly this year. As the Time article reported, the midterm elections will see numerous “election deniers — MAGA hardliners who trumpet former President Donald Trump’s lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen” running for positions that oversee elections at the state and local levels.

The article continues, “Inspired by Steve Bannon’s so-called ‘precinct strategy,’ far-right activists have flooded local precincts, signed up en masse to be poll workers, and orchestrated harassment of existing officials.

”At the same time, election deniers are winning GOP nominations for key election-related roles in major swing states. According to data compiled by States United Action, a nonpartisan nonprofit devoted to protecting elections, 13 election-deniers are running for Attorney General in 11 states, 19 are running for Secretary of State in 15 states, and 25 election deniers are running for Governor in 15 states as of July 11. More than one-third of Attorney General and Governor races in 2022 include an election denier, and more than half of the candidates for Secretary of State have embraced some form of the Big Lie.”

A newsletter authored by Robert Reich echoed the message, warning about a dark-money group called the America First Secretary of State Coalition. As he wrote, “The coalition was formed by radical MAGA candidates who are running for secretary of state in key battleground states. In most states, the secretary of state oversees elections—including determining who is eligible to vote and with the power to kick voters off the rolls, throw out votes, and declare the winners of elections.

“The goal of the America First Secretary of State Coalition is to elect Trump marionettes to the top elections administration in critical swing states so that when the 2024 election comes, they will have the power to declare Trump the winner—no matter the true will of the voters.”

As I have previously reported, Indiana has one of those “Big Lie” supporters running for Secretary of State. Republican nominee Diego Morales has called the 2020 election “a scam,” and promised to make “voter fraud” (apparently, people voting for Democrats) a focus of his efforts if elected. Morales has vowed to purge voter rolls, limit absentee ballots and allow voting only on Election Day.

You need not take my word for it: I’ve previously quoted James Briggs of The Indianapolis Star, who seemed incredulous about Morales’ nomination. Briggs wrote, “The Indiana Republican Party on Saturday nominated a secretary of state candidate so broadly unacceptable that the selection must be setting some kind of record for political ineptitude.

“Their choice, Diego Morales, once worked in the secretary of state’s office. That would normally be a good thing. Experience!

“Except…

“Except that, well, Morales got fired in 2009 over incompetence and a “lack of professionalism,” according to his personnel file. Morales disputes the record, as IndyStar’s Kaitlin Lange wrote, but his file doesn’t leave much ambiguity as to whether he met expectations in his job as a special assistant under Todd Rokita.”

Anyone rational–let alone patriotic– willing to spend even a few minutes contrasting Morales with the Democratic candidate, Destiny Wells, would have no difficulty deciding to vote for Wells. She’s a U.S. Army Reserve Lieutenant Colonel, a lawyer and an entrepreneur. She says. “I’m running for Indiana Secretary of State to safeguard democracy and the freedom to vote right here at home. I have worked at all levels of government—local, state, federal, and the multi-national level with NATO. As an attorney, I’ve been Associate Corporation Counsel for the City of Indianapolis and Marion County, and Deputy Attorney General for the State of Indiana. And as a military intelligence officer, I have seen first hand the state of democracy across the world.”

This choice should be a “no brainer.” But this is Indiana, where far too many voters reflexively choose anyone with an “R” by their name, no matter how flawed, dishonest or otherwise unacceptable. So, Indiana readers, please spread the word. Tell your friends and family. Visit Wells’ website (and send her some money so she can run a visible campaign. I just did.) The last thing Hoosiers need is an incompetent “Big Lie” proponent overseeing our elections.

Help defeat Indiana’s “Trump marionette.”

Kennedy recently retired as professor of law and public policy at the Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI.

***
Morales seeks unity as opponents campaign off controversy

By

Indiana Capital Chronicle

June 29, 2022

The race for Indiana’s next Secretary of State – typically a low-interest, down-ballot contest – has become a referendum on the future of the Indiana Republican Party with a rare statewide opportunity for hopeful Democrats.

Republican insiders earlier this month voted to nominate former Mike Pence aide Diego Morales, ousting  incumbent Holli Sullivan by a vote of 847-561. Gov. Eric Holcomb appointed her to the role in March 2021.

“I have a vision for the Office of the Indiana Secretary of State that delegates believed in and overwhelmingly endorsed at the convention,” Morales wrote in an emailed response to the Chronicle. “My job now, though, is to bring everyone together to focus on November and deliver that same message to Hoosiers across the state.”

He’ll face Democrat Destiny Scott Wells – a party executive, lawyer and military intelligence officer in the U.S. Army Reserve. Also on the ballot: Libertarian Jeff Maurer, a development officer for an international Libertarian nonprofit with experience in the technology industry.

Republicans dominate Indiana’s government, but Democrats are hoping controversy over Morales’ campaign goals and history working for the Secretary of State’s office will give Wells a boost.

“This race is usually a sleepy race, and it’s definitely not this year,” Wells said. “Democracy is on the ballot this year because of the Election Division being in the Secretary of State’s office and elections not being off the table as far as partisan gamesmanship.”

But all three candidates said election security was their top priority.

Each support the use of mail-in ballots in at least the limited situations described under state law; want some paper component to all voting and want the office to take a more active role in disseminating accurate election-related information.

Early voting

Morales’ vision includes establishment of an election fraud investigation team, reducing Indiana’s early voting period from 28 days to 14 days and requiring potential voters to include copies of their photo IDs in applying for mail-in ballots.

Republicans have traditionally upheld Indiana’s nearly month-long early voting period as a reason to maintain limits on the reasons Hoosiers can qualify for mail-in voting.

Morales wrote that Hoosiers should vote in-person early or on election days because they’re “the most secure ways to cast your vote.” Maurer, the Libertarian, said voters should cast their ballots on Election Day to limit “opportunities for vulnerabilities.”

However, both men supported the use of mail-in ballots in limited situations.

“There are situations where mail-in absentee ballots are necessary as well, such as for those serving in the military or for those that are disabled,” Morales wrote, “and in those limited situations I would support the ability to vote absentee by mail.”

“There’s about a dozen different exemptions for why [mail-in ballots] are used, so I don’t plan on changing those,” Maurer said. “But I am not advocating for expansion.”

Wells, the Democrat, said she would expand the list, which also includes being out of town.

“They confuse voters,” Wells said of the exemptions. “Voters are kind of scared to even file absentee.”

“I believe [mail-in voting] can be done in a responsible and secure way,” she added. “[It’s been] illustrated in other states already and illustrated here in Indiana, when we were up against the wall during Covid and had to get a little creative.”

Paper back-ups

Indiana was one of just eight states using paperless voting equipment in its 2020 elections, according to a white paper from Indiana University’s Public Policy Institute.

It’s a vulnerability the state is seeking to remedy with a $12 million investment in small printer add-ons, known as a voter-verifiable paper audit trail. The plan has garnered skepticism, but also a better-than-nothing acceptance from some academics and voting rights advocates.

The trio of secretary of state candidates agreed paper should play a bigger role in Indiana’s elections, but had different ideas of method.

“There must be a paper component tied to every vote cast. That is a must. If not, we can turn into the next Georgia or Arizona,” Morales wrote.

For Morales, the printer retrofits would be just an initial step.

“I will work with county clerks to make sure we continue to transition away from [electronic-only] machines,” Morales said. “The paper audit trails are a safeguard, but there will always be questions when you deal with (direct-record electronic) machines.”

Wells said she instead believes Indiana should return to paper-only ballots.

Voter-verifiable paper audit trail technology, she said, “is a bandaid on top of … electronic machines that are a security risk.”

Maurer, meanwhile, is campaigning to give voters paper receipts for their votes.

“[It’s] a verified piece of proof that you, the voter, can take home with you to show that your vote has been recorded accurately,” Maurer said, instilling confidence in a process he called “opaque” and “untrustworthy.”

Cracking down on misinformation

The three secretary of state candidates upheld the results of the 2020 elections, but to varying degrees.

“As I have said many times, Joe Biden is the President of the United States,” Morales wrote, before reaffirming his support for former President Donald Trump.

But, he added, “There are still questions around the 2020 election and we need to learn from those.” For Morales, most of those doubts arise from pre-election law changes and signature-matching “anomalies.”

Maurer also expressed doubt.

“Does it mean that the 2020 election was rigged or compromised or stolen? No,” he said. “I don’t know. I don’t believe that. I genuinely accept the results of the 2020 election. The problem is that we can’t prove that it was right.”

Wells, in contrast, was firm in her acceptance of 2020’s results.

Asked if she believed the elections were stolen, Wells said, “Absolutely not. Any elected official or candidate that continues to peddle that theory is a threat to our democracy.”

Despite their differing perspectives, each candidate said the Secretary of State’s office has a role to play in combating misinformation.

Morales said the state could improve on its “okay elections with good cyber security,” and could be forthcoming with information on any data breaches, plus attempts to recover from and prevent security violations.

Wells and Maurer suggested proactively putting out correct information and shutting down unfounded rumors. Maurer’s campaign also includes a push to “completely” audit all elections before officially certifying the results.

November approaches

Morales, as a Republican in modern-day Indiana, is likely to win in November. Hoosiers last elected a Democrat to the position in 1990: appointed incumbent Joe Hogsett, now mayor of Indianapolis.

But Morales has also been dogged by attacks that he’s an election denier, along with criticism of his work history for the Secretary of State’s office.

He left jobs in the office twice after being written up for poor job performance, once under then-Secretary Todd Rokita, and again under former Secretary Charlie White. The Associated Press first reported the disciplinary actions during Morales’ unsuccessful 2018 congressional bid.

Morales told the publication this year that the actions were “probably office politics.”

Morales’ nomination, he told the Chronicle, was because “hard work pays off.”

“That is the story behind my historic win to be the Republican nominee for Secretary of State,” he added. “I have crisscrossed all 92 counties multiple times telling delegates my American Dream story and sharing with them the qualifications I have for this office.”

Indiana Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Indiana Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Niki Kelly for questions: info@indianacapitalchronicle.com.

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Secretary of State Sullivan ousted from GOP ticket in convention vote

June 18, 2022

Incumbent Secretary of State Holli Sullivan was defeated Saturday afternoon in a vote by Indiana State Republican Party convention delegates who gave a majority to challenger Diego Morales on the second ballot.

Sullivan, a former state representative who was appointed to the office in 2021 after the resignation of Connie Lawson, received 561 votes to Morales’ 847, which gave the challenger a majority of the convention votes needed for nomination. Morales will face Democrat Destiny Wells, who was nominated without opposition Saturday in Indiana Democrats’ state convention, and Libertarian Jeff Maurer in the November election.

The Republican convention at the Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum also nominated candidates for the offices of Auditor of State and Treasurer of State.

Speaker of the House Todd Huston led the convention by urging party unity, saying, “I support all Republicans, even if we don’t agree on everything.”

The Republicans had one candidate run for Indiana Auditor of State, incumbent Tera Klutz, and four candidates run for each of the offices of Indiana Secretary of State and Indiana Treasurer of State. 

On each ballot, if a candidate did not receive 50% of the votes, the candidate with the lowest number of votes was dropped, and the next ballot without that candidate was issued to the delegates.

The duties of the Indiana Secretary of State are wide-ranging, including the preservation of the state seal, the chartering of new business, regulating securities, registration of trademarks, licensing of vehicle dealerships, commissioning public notaries and overseeing state elections, .

Coming out with the victory for the Secretary of State nomination after two ballots was Morales, a National Guard veteran and small business owner. Morales said he plans to increase election security and purge the names of ineligible voters.

Madison County Republican Chairman Russ Willis introduced Morales to the convention, saying, “Diego is the epitome of the American Dream. He came here as a legal immigrant in high school.” Willis also added, “Diego has a unique background and can welcome new people to our party.”

“This could only happen in America. This is the American Dream. We must fight to keep it,” said Morales. “In order to do so, we must secure our elections.”

Along with defeating Sullivan, Morales also topped Knox County Clerk David Shelton and a former Libertarian candidate, Paul Hager. Hager was the first candidate removed from the ballot.

Soon after Morales’ nomination, Indiana Democrats began calling attention to his campaign stance on voting rights, including statements casting doubt on the legitimacy of President Biden’s 2020 election win and campaign promises to cut back on early voting hours in Indiana, as well as his previous employment in the office of then-Secretary of State Todd Rokita. According to previous news reports, Morales left the office after being cited for poor performance of his duties.

The Indiana Treasurer of State is in charge of upholding state fiduciary responsibilities, investing and safeguarding public funds, managing state financial assets, and providing timely and accurate funding to state and local stakeholders.

Daniel Elliott (above, foreground), chair of the Morgan County Republican Party,  won the Republican nomination for Treasurer on the third ballot, in a close battle with Boone County Council President Elise Nieshalla. Fort Wayne city clerk Lana Keesling and Pete Seat, the former spokesman of the state party, were eliminated on the previous ballots.

Elliott emphasized the importance of having a proven conservative in charge of the state’s money. Elliott said, “I am the one who has proven he is the conservative in this race. Every [candidate’s] flyer we’ve seen has said conservative on it, but I am the only one whose shown it.”

 Elliott also addressed his complaints with inflation and Washington, saying, “Due to Bidenflation, there is so much financial turmoil right now… I will stand on the wall and protect us from those who are fighting to force their agendas down our throats.”

 The Indiana Auditor of State is responsible for maintaining State accounts, and services such as state employee compensation and distributing tax money.

 While accepting her nomination, Klutz said, “I am your employee, and you are my boss.” She also made it clear this is the only office she wants to hold, saying, “I am uniquely qualified for this position and have no other political aspirations.”

 A Democrat has not been elected the position of Secretary of State since 1990, Treasurer of State since 1971, and Auditor of State since 1982. The Democratic Party’s nominations for each of the three positions went uncontested in a convention at the Indiana Convention Center on Saturday. 

The Democratic convention nominated former U.S. Army Reserve Lieutenant Colonel and former deputy attorney general Wells for Secretary of State, current Monroe County Treasurer Jessica McClellan for Treasurer of State, and a CPA and controller at Cummins, ZeNai Brooks, for Auditor of State. — Zachary Roberts for The Indiana Citizen.  Zachary Roberts is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.