What Happened to My Vote?

by Kathleen Petitjean, from her blog “If We Only Connect”:

Voting, that basic tenet of Democracy is each citizen’s opportunity to exercise their voice at the ballot box. Casting our ballots in a Democracy, we assume our voices are heard when the votes are tallied. When the vote-counters disregard even a single vote, that voice is silenced. When voices are silenced, is this still a Democracy? For nearly 18 months, I worked to get a minor party candidate’s name on the state ballot. To me it was an opportunity to put an intelligent, energetic person in public office. To the party, it meant a chance for future ballot access; and to every voter, it offered another choice on Election Day.

For a minor candidate’s name to appear on the state ballot, recently enacted election law demands the submission of over 30,000 certified voter signatures. Steadfast in my belief in Democracy, I took the challenge. To every person of likely voting age I met I posed the same questions: “Are you registered to vote? Would you please sign my petition to get my candidate’s name on the ballot?”

A few folks, including my mysteriously-ageless auntie, would have signed but felt the official petition’s requirement to disclose their date of birth was a violation of privacy. Others refused, stating they feared voters may choose my candidate over their party’s offering for that office.

But ninety-nine percent of the people I approached listened to my request for help and were willing to do their part for Democracy.

“Everyone should be able to run for office,” an older woman told me.

“The more choices, the better,” a young kid said, “I’m sick of what we have now.”

“I probably won’t vote for him,” a middle-aged guy said, “but you should be able to.”

Every week I took my sheets of government-approved forms, filled with signatures in accordance with government-mandated standards to the government Voter Registration office.

“More signatures for us to check?” asked the sweet, steel-haired ladies from behind their computers. “Only about half the signatures on your sheets from last week were good.”

“What was wrong with them?” I asked.

“Well, here’s a voter who moved without re-registering to vote. See? Here’s his registration under his old address. This one looks like a gal who got married and forgot to register with her new last name. See? Here’s her registration under her former name. These other names just weren’t in our computers.”

The Voter Registration ladies use red ink to draw lines through the signatures deemed “invalid” on petition sheets. I stared at my sheets violated with red. I thought of the hours those red-lined names represented and grieved their loss to my cause. I thought sadly of the kind citizens who believed they were registered to vote and had taken the time to help, now summarily dismissed by red slashes.

Despite Herculean efforts by people across the state, we were unable to collect the number of votes required before the shortened deadline erected by the state. Nonetheless, having properly filed all the necessary forms, my candidate was still eligible for write-in votes. Although this made him a long-shot to win, he might still garner enough votes so our minor party’s candidates could appear on the ballot in future elections without again having to gather signatures.

On Election Day, I took my ballot to the standing carrel and carefully marked my choices. As instructed for my candidate’s race, I darkened the bubble next to “Write-in” and slowly and deliberately printed each letter of his first and last name. An election official stood next to the ballot scanner. He smiled when I joked about putting my ballot into the “shredder” as I fed the sheet with my votes into the slot.

That night and the next day, the television media and local newspaper reported only race results for the “major” party candidates. Well, I knew he didn’t win, but it was important to know how my candidate fared.

Finally, I called the County Election Board:

“Hello. Could you please tell me how many votes were cast for my candidate in this county?”

“Let’s see. Well, the official number reported to the State Election Board was zero.”

“Could you repeat that, please?”

“Zero.”

How could that be? I knew all the local campaign workers planned to vote for him. Many of my friends said they would vote for him. I was fairly certain my boyfriend voted for him. My mother told me she voted for him and I know I voted for him! How in the name of Democracy did Election Officials miss my vote?

Said the Official in Charge of Counting Votes, “we don’t have the mechanism in place to count write-in votes.”

They don’t have the mechanism to count votes? They have the mechanism for a person to file as a legitimate candidate. They have a mechanism to certify the thousands of signatures required to get on the ballot. Whether a candidate is a write-in or one whose name appears on the ballot, they have the mechanism for candidates to report every penny that comes into and out of a campaign. They even had the mechanism on the ballot for voters to write-in a legitimate candidate’s name. How does an Election Board not have a mechanism to count votes?

Pressed on this basic premise of Democracy, a government official on the Election Board said simply:

“I suggest you see an attorney.”

In a Democracy, no one should have to hire an attorney to make sure their vote is counted. If you agree, please:

1) post a comment on this blog with your name so we can present it at the next Election Board meeting,

2) write a signed email to votegreenmichiana@gmail.com , which we can print and present at the next Election Board meeting,

3) attend the next St Joe County Election Board meeting on Wedenday, March 12 at 10:00 a.m. in the County Council Conference Chambers (4th floor, corner office, County City Building; ask security guards for directions, if necessary), or

4) call the County Clerk’s office at (574) 235-9635

and tell our elected officials, whose duty it is to uphold our Democracy that you:

a) want to go on record with your feelings about this issue,

b) demand the St Joe County Election Board goes on record to apologize to the voters who were disenfranchised and to the write-in candidates whose votes were disregarded in direct violation of Federal Election law in 2007 and 2006, and

c) demand the St Joe County Election Board invest in the mechanisms needed to properly count legitimate write-in ballots cast by voters.

Please do your part to ensure all voices are honored at the ballot box, thus securing for all of us that essence of Democracy, our Vote.

Green Party: No full recount

Article published Nov 23, 2007 in the South Bend Tribune

Green Party: No full recount

Cost proves factor in decision.

PABLO ROS

Tribune Staff Writer

SOUTH BEND — Green Party candidates who ran for office in the South Bend and Mishawaka elections Nov. 6 said this week that they did not seek a full recount of votes despite inaccuracies in write-in results because a recount would have proved too costly for them.

Karl Hardy, a Green Party candidate who ran for a South Bend Common Council at-large seat, said the costs of a full recount, which could have ranged in the thousands of dollars, would have had to been paid for by those requesting it, according to Indiana law.

Green Party candidates claimed the election turned out to be unfair to write-in candidates. Tom Brown, who ran for South Bend mayor, said, “The idea that we should have to pay thousands of dollars to get a full count amounts to a de facto poll tax on write-in voters and candidates.”

Green Party candidates also said this week that their initial offer to the St. Joseph County election board to provide volunteers for a write-in-votes-only recount was rejected because of the absence of a legal procedure allowing volunteers to take on such responsibilities.

According to Indiana law, a request for a recount must be filed in the form of a petition or lawsuit with the courts before a judge appoints a commission. The commission would rule to accept or reject the request.Jim Masters, a South Bend attorney with experience in election law, said the party filing the lawsuit would incur the expenses associated with a recount, including a $100 bond fee and $10 for each precinct involved. He said the petition or lawsuit must be filed one week after the election.

Masters also said that it wouldn’t make sense to file for a recount unless the election winner’s and loser’s voting results are within five votes of each other.

Green Party candidates said they wanted a recount because of discrepancies in machine- versus-hand-counted write-in votes and because of reported breaches of voter privacy at the polls. Although they received a small percentage of the total vote in each race, the larger issues to them are fairness and ultimately replacing the Green Party’s write-in status with ballot access, for which a minimum percentage of votes is necessary.

“These problems with ballot access and write-in votes are not going away,” Hardy said. “Next year is a presidential election year and we’re certain to go through this again.”

Greens cite de facto “poll tax”

November 20, 2007

Greens cite de facto “poll tax”
Full, accurate count of all the votes will cost thousands of dollars

Green candidates for municipal offices in last week’s election today said their offer of volunteer help in securing a full, accurate count of all write-in votes was rejected by St. Joseph County Election Board chairperson James Korpal. The Greens reported that Korpal informed them that there is no legal procedure available for allowing volunteers to take part in a counting of votes.

Korpal also said there are no plans to count the more than 300 write-in votes that were cast in races that included registered write-in candidates but have yet to be attributed to a specific candidate. According to Korpal a formal recount would be necessary to address the issue of these 300 votes, likely resulting in costs of several thousand dollars that would be incurred by the Green candidates.

“The idea that we have to should have to pay thousands of dollars to get a full count amounts to a de facto poll tax on write-in voters and candidates, “ said write-in South Bend Mayoral candidate Tom Brown. “St. Joseph County didn’t have the equipment necessary to follow Indiana election law and the consequence is that write-in candidates are likely being denied more than 60% of our votes.”

Indiana election law requires that all votes be counted and attributed to all registered candidates. The St. Joseph County Election Board devised a plan requiring voters casting write-in votes to place their ballots in a separate auxiliary bin in order to allow for a hand count. Ballots that are scanned directly into the voting machines register the existence of a write-in vote, but because these ballots are placed in the sealed ballot box after being read by the voting machine, there is no way to determine what has been written-in and, therefore, no way to legally attribute these write-in votes to a specific person.

Greens reported widespread breaches of voter privacy, confusing and conflicting directions for write-in voters, and the tallying of write-in votes in public view stemming from this year’s municipal elections.

Election Board officials have stated that specialized equipment called a “diverter” is necessary to allow all ballots to be placed into the voting machine with those containing write-in votes to be separated so that they can be hand counted. The cost of a diverter, according to Board officials, is $3,000 per machine and would be necessary for all voting machines in use across the county.

“This is an example where Indiana’s restrictive ballot access laws are forcing independent and third party candidates into write-in candidacies, “ said Karl Hardy, write-in candidate for at-large South Bend Common Council. “The reality is that Indiana is out of step with the national standards of ballot access and this is creating a mess in terms of counting write-in votes and adhering to the principle that all votes be counted with the same standard.”

Indiana’s threshold for signatures necessary for ballot access was quadrupled in the early 1980s from one half of one percent to 2 percent of the total votes cast in the most recent Indiana Secretary of State’s race. Furthermore, the deadline for turning in these signatures has been moved earlier and earlier from its original date of 20 days before then election to its current July 1st position.

“These problems with ballot access and write-in votes are not going away, “ said Hardy. “Next year is a presidential election year and we’re certain to go through this again.”

Similar problems occurred in the last general election held in November 2006 when approximately 500 votes cast for three registered write-in candidates were never attributed to them.

Widespread problems with privacy, voting procedures at polls

Widespread problems with privacy, voting procedures at polls
Voters told to reveal ballots, inconsistencies with write-in ballots plague elections

Green Party write-in candidates have been receiving reports throughout the day of varying procedures used at different polling stations with regard to write-in votes. The three Green Party write-in candidates are Tom Brown (Mayor of South Bend), Karl Hardy (South Bend Common Council at-large), and David Vollrath (Mishawaka Common Council at-large).

Voters have reported being asked directly as to whether or not they have voted for Green Party candidates, a direct infringement on voters’ rights to privacy. Several voters have told of being asked to present their ballots to poll workers who then apparently tallied their votes on scratch paper being kept in public view. Other voters describe poll workers who appeared confused and ill informed as to how write-in votes should be treated.

“What is at stake here is citizens’ fundamental right to cast a private ballot for the registered candidate of their choice,” said Hardy. “The sanctity of our electoral process is the basis of our democracy- people’s rights have been violated and this is absolutely unacceptable. We are far from convinced that we will get a full and accurate count of all the votes for all registered candidates,”

Hardy added the Greens plan to take further action on this issue and would not rule out the possibility of demanding a recount to ensure a full and accurate counting of the vote.

In response to citizen concerns over nearly 500 uncounted votes cast for write-in candidates in the November 2006 General Election and the local candidacies of Brown, Hardy, and Vollrath, the St. Joseph County Election Board devised a mechanism that would allow for ballots containing write-in votes to be placed in a separate auxiliary bin apart from those ballots not containing a write-in votes.

This was deemed necessary because, according to the county Election Board, a specialized piece of equipment called a “diverter” is necessary to separate ballots containing write-in votes so that they can be examined and counted by hand. The Board claimed that these diverters cost $3,000 per machine and they would be needed for every voting machine in St. Joseph County. Indiana statute requires ballot boxes to be sealed until several days after elections, necessitating a mechanism for diverting write-in votes so they can be tallied by hand on election night.

The Green Party does not have ballot access in Indiana despite gathering more than 20,000 signatures statewide in a drive to have the 2006 Green Party candidate for Indiana Secretary of State, Bill Stant, placed on the ballot. Stant subsequently became a registered write-in candidate but nearly 500 write-in votes cast for him and two other write-in candidates in the November 2006 General Election were not counted in St. Joseph County as required by Indiana statute.

Thank you Michiana!!!

Voters cast more than 1, 119 votes for our 4 Green Party candidates in Tuesday November 6th’s election.

Kathleen Petitjean received 23% of the vote in her bid for South Bend’s 1st District Common Council seat.

Vote totals for the 3 registered write-in Green candidates are incomplete as there are certainly write-in votes cast for our candidates that were not hand counted and were scanned and placed into ballot boxes that must be sealed for several days after the election.

Incomplete, inaccurate totals are as follows:

Tom Brown (Mayor of South Bend) – 151 votes

Karl Hardy (at-large South Bend Common Council) – 242 votes

David Vollrath (at-large Mishawaka Common Council) – 79 votes

Greens plan to pursue a full, accurate counting of ALL the votes cast for ALL candidates. Please stay tuned.

How to vote “Green”

There are four Green candidates running for municipal offices up for election this Tuesday November 4th.

Kathleen Petitjean’s name will appear on the ballot in South Bend’s 1st District in a two person race. Her Green Party affiliation should appear alongside her name. In order to cast your vote for Kathleen, you just check the bubble adjacent to her name as you would for your desired candidate in the other local races.

In order to cast a write-in ballot for the offices of South Bend Mayor, South Bend at-large Common Council, or Mishawaka at-large Common Council you must do the following in order to ensure that your vote is counted:

1. You must check the bubble adjacent to “Write-in” which should appear after the names of the candidates listed and then write in the name of the appropriate candidate for this office, for example, in South Bend’s mayoral race it ought look similar to this:

( ) Stephen Luecke (Democrat)

( ) Juan Manigault (Republican)

(X) Write-in ___Tom Brown ____________

To cast a write-in vote for Greens running in the South Bend at-large Common Council races (Karl Hardy) and Mishawaka at-large Common Council race (David Vollrath), you follow the same procedure as described above for this races, writing in Karl and David’s names in the space provided for “Write-in” candidates.

2. After you have finished casting your ballot for all of the races you intend to vote, please take note of the signs that should be posted at each polling station directing you to place your ballot in a separate bin that is set aside to collect those ballots that contain write-in votes. If you have questions as to where you should place your completed ballot, please ask a poll worker. The poll workers should have been instructed as to how ballots containing write-in votes should be treated.

*** If you have any trouble with casting a write-in ballot and/or you feel that you were given misinformation by a poll worker, please contact us: (votegreenmichiana (at) gmail (dot) com)*** 

Green campaigns near election day

St. Joseph County’s municipal elections are only a few days away. Here’s a look at some of the recent media attention Green candidates have been getting:

Council candidate proposes tax breaks to rehab vacant houses
South Bend Tribune article reporting Green Kathleen Petitjean’s two pronged approach to tackling the abandoned/vacant house problem in South Bend’s 1st District. Published November 1, 2007.

Green Party candidates hoping to shake up election
Segment aired on WSBT on October 30, 2007. Includes interview clips with Green South Bend mayoral candidate Tom Brown and South Bend 1st District Common Council candidate Kathleen Petitjean.

Mishawaka candidates answer questionnaire
South Bend Tribune article that includes responses to questions posed to the 7 candidates, including Green Dave Vollrath, vying for Mishawaka’s 3 at large Common Council seats. Published October 30, 2007.

Poll shows Luecke still leading race
South Bend Tribune article that discusses a recent poll that had Green Tom Brown at 2% despite no campaign budget and scant media attention. Published October 30, 2007.

Looking at South Bend’s at large Common Council race
South Bend Tribune article featuring responses of the 7 candidates, including Green Karl Hardy, vying for South Bend’s 3 at large Common Council seats. Article published October 29, 2007.

South Bend has 1st District race
A South Bend Tribune article featuring responses of the two candidates, including Green Kathleen Petitjean, vying for South Bend’s 1st District Common Council seat. Published October 28, 2007.