News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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October 29, 2012

Vigo GOP chair may challenge absentee ballots

Topic may arise at this afternoon’s Election Board meeting

TERRE HAUTE — Questions concerning the county’s absentee voting process have Republican leadership threatening to challenge ballots if a compromise isn’t reached.

Vigo County GOP Chairman Randall Gentry said Sunday his requests for information about the security of absentee ballots have not been adequately addressed since last week. Saturday morning, Republicans involved in the balloting process at the courthouse told him they believe multiple mailed-in ballots were signed by the same person.

“We think this involves a multitude of ballots,” he said, adding he wants a bi-partisan team to review all 1,735 ballots for potential problems. Without such a “check and balance,” he said he’ll fight for a court-ordered injunction and a challenge of all ballots involved. Such a move could disenfranchise a considerable number of voters, he said, expressing frustration at what he perceives to be a lack of cooperation from the Vigo County Election Commission.

Gentry’s concerns stem from the lack of Republican presence on the county’s Absentee Voter Office Boards. Citing Indiana Law IC 3-11-10-37, he said it’s the Vigo County Election Board’s responsibility to notify him of any positions that need to be filled 10 days before to a balloting process.

 “In my opinion, the Chief Election Officer has violated the voters’ trust by unilaterally setting up an operation that does not follow Indiana law by any stretch of the imagination, and I find it quite insulting that the Democrats decided to blame me for this issue. I was the one that brought it to their attention and now all they can do is blame me. I don’t think this process even has duly appointed Democrats. I wasn’t expecting a gold-embossed thank you card, but I did not expect this response,” he stated in a media release distributed over the weekend.

Meanwhile, Vigo County Clerk Pat Mansard, a Democrat, expressed her own frustration over the issue Sunday, insisting no laws have been broken and no ballots can be found to have been altered.

“It was really just an oversight,” she said of the empty Republican spots on that particular board.

The last two Republicans who worked those positions have since passed away, she said. Ultimately, it’s the party chairman’s responsibility to fill positions, and Mansard said that proper notification was indeed sent out. Gentry, she said, has been the county’s GOP chairman less than a month, and the notification of necessary appointments would have been sent to whomever her office had on the notification list.

“Whoever was chairman at the time we sent it out,” she said.

A voicemail left Sunday evening for Bill Treadway, the immediate past GOP chairman of Vigo County, was not immediately returned.

Mansard said Gentry’s accusations are becoming quite “alarming,” particularly with regards to potential  fraud or forgery.

“Keep in mind, none of these people are graphologists,” she said of the Republicans and Democrats working in the courthouse.

Joe Etling, chairman of the Vigo County Democratic Party, said Sunday afternoon he was unaware of Gentry’s allegations concerning the signatures. Nationally, there appears to be a drive from the Republican Party to disenfranchise voters, he said, and it now would appear to have been localized.

“If they’re not trying to disenfranchise voters, I don’t know what they’re trying to do,” he said.

Etling said party officials are given calendars each year with the necessary dates to make appointments and conduct business.

“So these are all deadlines that are established, so I would submit that party officials are responsible to know and follow the law,” he said, contending that “the burden is on the chair to make those nominations” and be aware of any vacancies.

Gentry said the reversal of blame onto the Republicans is angering him, and he said if this same situation were to occur in one of presidential race’s “battleground states,” it would be a national issue. The media, he said, should request to inspect the ballots as well.

The Vigo County Election Board will meet at 3 p.m. today, Gentry and Mansard said.

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

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