News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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October 26, 2012

Vigo GOP alleges ‘mishandling’ of some absentee ballots

Clerk’s office says all ‘accounted for’

TERRE HAUTE — Procedural issues in the absentee voting process have officials at odds this week.

Vigo County Republican Party chairman Randall Gentry issued a media statement Thursday, alleging the “mishandling of some 1,600 absentee ballots” by the Vigo County Clerk’s office and its component which handles absentee ballots via the mail.

Clerk Pat Mansard responded to the allegations, stating that “every ballot has been accounted for” and described some of the wording used in the release as part of a nationwide “fear-mongering” at the polls this year.

At issue is the lack of a Republican absentee ballot board member on a team that monitors and safeguards the ballot applications and the ballots themselves.

According to Mansard, it is the responsibility of each party’s chair to appoint such people to those positions. Meanwhile, Gentry on Thursday said under state law, it’s the Vigo County Election Board’s responsibility to notify the appropriate chairman when such a vacancy occurs no fewer than 10 days before a ballot process.

According to Gentry, who was elected the local party chairman in September, it has become apparent that Republicans have not been represented on that board for a number of years. No notification of that absence has ever been issued to party officials, he said, stating Mansard’s placement of the responsibility on him is “disingenuous.”

Mansard maintained that her office operates in a bipartisan manner and that both parties are welcome to become more involved in the process and keep tabs on their workers.

Both agreed that no evidence of tampering exists with any of the approximately 1,600 ballots and applications involved during the period in question. Based on that, Gentry said he won’t challenge the ballots for fear of disenfranchising the voters who have already sent in their materials.

“We will never be 100 percent sure that the ballots have not been compromised, but we must not disenfranchise all the voters on pure speculation,” he stated in his release.

Mansard said the numbers in Gentry’s release amount to a “scary sounding statement.”

“I think there’s a lot of fear-mongering going on across the country,” she said, emphasizing that all ballots have been accounted for and there is no evidence of tampering. Meanwhile, she maintains that it is the responsibility of the party chairman to fill vacancies.

“I’m in the business of encouraging everyone to vote, not just Democrats but Republicans, too,” said Mansard, a Democrat.

Gentry said he’s contacted the state election commission and local candidates, and while he’s not seeking to throw out the ballots, he wants to make the issue known.

“It is clear that Indiana Law was not followed in the processing of absentee ballots in Vigo County and Indiana Law has not been followed for several election cycles,” he stated in his release.

Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or brian.boyce@tribstar.com.

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