News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 9, 2012

Personnel disputes mar election

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — While Tuesday’s election had no voting machine issues to impact voters, Vigo County Election Board officials had to deal with personnel disputes at several voting precincts.

Two members of the Election Board were dispatched just as the polls opened at 6 a.m. to precinct 3G, at the Booker T. Washington Community Center in Terre Haute, after a dispute led Republicans to replace an inspector with a Democrat.

A Republican inspector told poll workers he was going to announce that the polling site was open, then never returned.

 “We believe it is a situation that, based on information that we were provided, that maybe he did not want to be a part of the personality conflict that had already started so early,” said Richard Shagley II, a Democratic assistant election board member.

Shagley and Jerry Arnold, a Republican assistant election board member, went to the site to resolve what they said was a personality dispute.

Arnold said they received a lot of conflicting reports, as election workers were interviewed separately and then together. “There was no innocent parties there,” Arnold added, as all the poll workers appeared to be involved in a personality conflict, possibly with racial overtones.

There was a mother and daughter on one side and two sisters that had “teamed up and people maybe trying to protect a relative,” Shagley said. “It was a series of events, separate and minor, but thrown all together” created a conflict, he said.

Arnold said Republicans moved a Democrat into the role of inspector. The Democrat had previous experience as a poll inspector.

Other disputes involved Democrats and Republicans over how poll sites functioned. Republicans this year run the county election polls under state law, as Republicans cast more votes for the Indiana Secretary of State in last year’s election.

For example, Jerry Nesbit, a Democratic judge, walked out of Precinct 4A/B in the VFW Post 972, telling officials he did not like the way Republicans had set up the voting precinct. No one responded to telephone calls to Nesbit’s Terre Haute home Tuesday evening seeking comment.

In Otter Creek F precinct, located in a building at Rose Lawn Cemetery, Alvin Foster and his son, Shawn Foster, who served as a sheriff and judge, respectively, both walked out of the precinct about noon.

Alvin Foster said “no one knew about setting up the [voting] machines. My son and I had to set them up. We also took it upon ourselves to make sure all the signs are set up appropriately.”

One young Republican poll worker, Foster said, made a few jokes that he disagreed with, such as telling a voter who had a large amount of money in his wallet “that you can leave some of that green stuff here. I didn’t think that was appropriate,” Foster said.

In addition, another GOP worker “kept taking a smoke break, going to a restroom to smoke and couple of times left the poll to go outside to smoke, which is not allowed,” he said.

“I just got fed up and my son and I walked out,”  Foster said. “We didn’t say anything to anybody. I should have just bit my tongue and just stayed in there. I understand I put [Vigo County Clerk] Pat [Mansard] and the Election Board in a pretty bad situation and I apologize for that. My responsibility was to stay there till 6 p.m.,” when polls closed, Foster said. Mansard said Foster, who has worked about five elections, had called her and apologized for leaving the precinct.

In other issues, Mansard said polls in Sugar Creek A and C precincts, at West Vigo Middle/High School, almost didn’t open on time. The building was closed when poll workers arrived at 5 a.m. The clerk called a school principal, who contacted a janitor, who got the building open.

However, workers were then not able to access a locked room that contained the voting equipment. That room also then had to be unlocked, Mansard said. “It was more of a hassle and more unnecessary pressure, but the polls were open on time and no problem with voting,” the clerk said.

Mansard said yet another election-day incident illustrates what she thinks is a problem with the statewide photo ID law of voters. The clerk said she disagrees with the ID requirement as it can suppress voters, but upholds the mandate, as it is state law.

Autumn Nicole Dowell, a Terre Haute native, recently returned to Vigo County after working in Missouri. Dowell registered to vote earlier this year, and last week attempted to get an Indiana driver’s license, but said she was given misinformation about the need for a wedding license.

Dowell said she is divorced and said she later learned she just needed a copy of the divorce order to obtain a driver’s license. She attempted to get a license on election day to vote, but could not as the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, while it was issuing licenses and state IDs, was not administering driving tests.

She could not get a state ID because she already held a driver’s license, issued in Missouri.

Dowell ended up casting a provisional ballot. She must show her Indiana driver’s license to the county clerk for her ballot to count before noon May 18, when the election numbers are certified by the Vigo County Election Board

“I didn’t understand. If you realized your driver’s licensed expired [Tuesday] you would be in the same boat as me,” Dowell said. “A lot of people would have said the heck with it, after being turned away at the BMV to get an ID. I refuse to do that. It is my right as a woman, people fought for me to be able to vote. I make sure I always vote, so that is why I went to the polling precinct and asked what can I do.”

While Dowell made it to the polls, election turnout in Vigo County was light, with nearly 21 percent casting a ballot. That is based on 74,040 registered voters, which includes inactive

voters.

Vigo County had 15,395 ballots cast in Tuesday’s election. Of those, 46.25 percent, or 7,119 ballots were cast by Republicans, while 53.75 percent were cast by Democrats.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at (812) 231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.