Tribune-Star Editorial graphic

After 2019 debacle, voters deserve better performance

For the second straight year, the Vigo County Election Board faces questions affecting the primary election. Last year, the issue was placement of a candidate's name on the Democratic Party ballot. This year there are two issues. One pertains to a candidate's eligibility for the Democratic ballot. The other involves a candidate's nickname on his candidacy filing that is actually his business's name.

Challenges and appeals aren't frequent occurrences during elections. But they do happen. The Election Board, which is made up of the county clerk and one representative of each political party, is saddled with hearing complaints and challenges and applying the law to make a final decision. Because Clerk Brad Newman is a Republican, his party has control of the board. That raises the irony of both challenges coming on the Democratic side.

Vigo County voters have the right to expect the Election Board to make fair and reasonable judgments on this year's challenges. But no one should blame voters for harboring skepticism that the board will deliver on its obligation.

Last year, the Election Board denied the appeal of a Democratic candidate for Terre Haute City Council when her name was placed in the wrong order on the ballot. State law dictates that candidates' last names be listed in alphabetical order. But when the ballot was published, Tess Brooks-Stephens found her name listed behind that of Cheryl Loudermilk.

Brooks-Stephens' name and candidate filing had been certified by the clerk's office, so there was no good reason for her name not to appear first on the ballot. Questions were raised about the possibility that the filing document was altered after it was certified, but no clear explanation was ever given about the ballot placement decision.

Brooks-Stephens' appeal to the Election Board was inexplicably denied, forcing the candidate to take the matter to court to make sure the law was followed.

Judge Sarah Mullican heard two days of testimony before ruling that the Election Board had violated the law and ordered it to reprint the ballots.

Both challenges facing the Election Board are weighty matters.

The challenge filed against county commissioner hopeful Pat Goodwin asserts that the candidate should not be allowed on the ballot in the Democratic primary because he ran as an independent in last year's mayoral election and has publicly stated he is not a Democrat. For those reasons, and a list of other similar complaints, the challenge states Goodwin should be disqualified as a primary candidate.

The other challenge claims Democratic commissioner candidate Steve Ellis should not be allowed to have his business name — "Top Guns" — listed on the ballot as his nickname.

The Election Board's responsibility to the voters is that its decision in these cases be based on the law and not influenced by politics, favoritism or cronyism. After last year's debacle, the Election Board has an opportunity this year to demonstrate that it learned its lesson.

The Election Board has until one week from today to render decisions on the challenges. We urge the board to deliberate and rule wisely.

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