News and Tribune

November 8, 2012

Turnout led to big Election Day problems in Clark County

Clerk says training issues caused problems; Republican party chair disagrees

By MATT KOESTERS
matt.koesters@newsandtribune.com

CLARK COUNTY —  Large voter turnout, ballot shortages and training issues led to long lines and late tabulations on Election Day in Clark County, according to the county clerk.

Across the county, about 54 percent of registered voters turned out to participate in this year’s election. Some precincts were much higher than that, County Clark Barbara Haas said.

“That’s a huge number of active voters,” Haas said. “You combine that with inexperience at the polls, and you’ve got some problems.”

The Republican Party was responsible for providing inspectors at the polls for the second consecutive year. Republican Party Chairman Jamey Noel denied that training was an issue with his people.

“I don’t think it was on our part,” Noel said. “The clerk runs the election along with the election board, and you have two Democrats on the election board and one Republican appointment. It’s their responsibility to run the election.

“And how ironic it was heavy Republican areas that didn’t have a proper amount of ballots.”

According to Haas, Clark County Voter Registration hosted a training session for poll workers Oct. 29. Only five of 72 inspectors showed up for the county-sponsored training, Haas said.

“They didn’t know how to open the machines,” Haas said. “They didn’t know what they were supposed to be doing as an inspector. All of that stuff that would have been handled at a training session.”

The Republican Party hosted its own training session Nov. 1, and was attended by more than 200 poll workers, as well as Bubby Vissing, who is a voting machine specialist with Clark County Voter Registration, Noel said. He said the training given by the party was substantively the same as the training the county gave Oct. 29.

“It was a really well-attended training, really informative and thorough,” Noel said.

He said the training conducted by the Republican Party relied on a PowerPoint presentation for poll workers taken from the website of the Indiana Secretary of State’s office and Vissing’s instruction on how to use the voting machines. Haas said there were county-specific components missing from the Nov. 1 training, including supply pick-up and what must be brought back to voter registration at the end of the night.

“In my mind, that’s the practical things that you cover that you’re not going to see in a PowerPoint from the Secretary of State’s office, because that’s going to vary from county to county. Those are particular things,” Haas said.

Haas, a Democrat, did not attend the Republican Party-conducted training. She said she wasn’t invited. Noel said Haas told him she had other obligations that day.



BALLOT SHORTAGES

According to Haas, the county ordered enough ballots to accommodate 90 percent of Clark County’s registered voters, but started each polling location with 50 percent of the total number of registered voters set to vote at each location. Some locations started to run out early in the day.

“The reason we don’t put 100 percent in there, is because you might have 20 percent turnout at one precinct and an 80 percent turnout over here, and they are instructed at the training that when your ballots get down to two packages, you call voter registration and people are dispatched to bring you more,” Haas said. “There was some downfall on that. They were calling their county chairman, their county chairman was calling me, and then I was calling voter registration. If they’d have called directly to voter registration, those would have been dispatched lots faster.”

But Noel took issue with Haas’ characterization of the ballot problems.

“There’s no truth to that whatsoever,” Noel said. “I had inspectors call me and say, ‘Hey, I called two hours ago and requested ballots,’ and I actually called the Republican election board member and [Haas] personally to say, ‘Hey, this location’s out of ballots,’ because inspectors started calling me and saying they couldn’t get people at voter registration to either, A, answer the phone, or said, ‘Hey, I called in two hours ago and told them I needed ballots.’

On some of the problems, the two agree on the facts. Ballots — which are specific to polling locations — slated to be taken to the Union 1 precinct, which was located at Rock Creek Community Academy, were instead taken to the Owen Township location. The problem took hours to resolve because of a shortage of people to make ballot runs and the geographic size of the county, Haas said.

A Democrat and a Republican must be together whenever ballots are handled, according to Indiana law. Making sure both were present was a challenge throughout the day, Haas said.

“We were calling party chairmen and saying we need more people up here,” Haas said. “Well, we’d get a couple of Democrats, and we’d have to wait for a Republican to get here. Or we’d have a couple of Republicans, and we’d have to wait for a Democrat to get here before we could send them out.”



OTHER ISSUES

Absentee ballots caused headaches throughout the day, Haas said. The ballots the county ordered arrived without perforations that would have made them easy to fold properly. Instead, the ballots were incorrectly folded and hence more difficult to be scanned by the machines, Haas said.

At least one voter had a problem writing in a candidate for president on her ballot. Cheryl Johnson of Sellersburg said that a poll worker told her she couldn’t vote for a write-in candidate when a voting machine would not accept her ballot.

“There were quite a few write-in candidates for president in Indiana, but apparently at our precinct we couldn’t vote for any of them,” Johnson wrote in an e-mail to the News and Tribune. “That is just wrong. I was disappointed that I couldn’t vote for the guy I wanted to vote for.”

Haas attributed Johnson’s problem to training.

“I can’t control that. That’s training,” Haas said. “That should have been covered at training. I will tell you it was covered at the training Oct. 29.”

But there were plenty of things about Election Day that went right, including no problems with observers, complaints of electioneering, few challenges to ballots and few incidents of political signs within 50 feet of polling locations.

Haas said she’d like to see the county change the way it handles elections going forward, and supports replacing the 72 precincts in Clark County with a much smaller number of “election centers” that would necessitate fewer poll workers.

“I just think we’ve got to go to vote centers,” Haas said. “Geographically, this county is way bigger than neighboring counties, and it’s just hard to cover all of that territory out there.”

The News and Tribune was not made aware of any voting problems in Floyd County.