Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

October 7, 2012

Ballot problems in Miami County cause confusion

Absentee ballots opened in clerk’s office.

By Ken de la Bastide
Tribune enterprise editor

Peru — Nine absentee ballots received in the Miami County Clerk’s office have been opened and are likely not to be counted on election day.

The ballots were opened on Sept. 26 and Miami County Clerk Tawna Leffel and Paul Wilson, deputy clerk in the Voter Registration office believe the ballots will be counted on election day.

Wilson said county officials had two options, reissue the ballots and destroy the originals or keep the ballots as they are, count them on election day and document the chain of events.

He said the election board choose option two to count the ballots, but added an investigation continues.

Wilson said the ballots were not removed from the envelope, the envelope was sealed and placed in a secure locked box until election night.

Vicki Wheeler, chairman of the Miami County Democratic Party, said Friday the ballots will not be counted because state law prohibits them from being included in the election results if they have been opened before election day.

She said Dick Lancaster, the Democratic Party member of the Miami County Election Board will not allow the opened ballots to be counted.

Wheeler believes county officials should contact the nine voters and have them certify their ballot choices and seal them in a new envelope or cast a new ballot.

“How many other ballots were opened? We don’t know if the ballots were changed or marked in anyway,” she said.

Wheeler intends to contact the nine effected voters and inform them their ballots were opened.

Leslie Barnes, an attorney with the Indiana Election Division, said by state law because the envelopes were opened the ballots should not be counted.

She said if there is a request for a recount or a contested election the ballots could be counted because of a mistake by an election official.

Barnes said the nine voters should be contacted and asked to cast a replacement ballot.

“The law doesn’t require the clerk to notify the voters,” she said. “But the effected voters should be notified.”

Barnes said with election day more than three weeks away on Nov. 6, there is enough time for the voters to be contacted and cast another ballot.

She said if all the elected officials were to agree that the opened ballots should be counted on election day, because county officials implement the law.

Barnes said the best action to take would be to contact the nine voters.

Wilson said having the voters cast new ballots has been considered in the election board discussions.

“We’re moving slowly to assertion the correct procedures,” he said. “We want to uphold the voter’s intent.”

Leffel said the ballots were not compromised and Miami County officials contacted state officials.

“The ballots will be counted, we followed state law,” she said.

However, Barnes indicated the nine opened ballots should not be counted according to state law.

Since Sept. 26 there has been a change in procedures on how mail is being handled. The mail, which used to be sorted in the Clerk’s office, is now being brought directly to the Voter Registration office and the absentee ballots are being placed in a secure locked box.