CLARK COUNTY — Republican Charlestown Mayor Bob Hall has officially filed for a recount in the mayor's race, a seat which he lost by 30 votes on election night to Democratic newcomer Treva Hodges. She received two more votes when the Clark County provisional ballots were counted Friday.
But the recount petition filed Monday by Mike Gillenwater on behalf of Hall not only requests a recount of all ballots cast in the Charlestown mayor's race, but contests the validity of some of those votes. The petition requests that if the court finds there's no way to determine the winner, that a special election be held.
In the document, Hall states that he believes there was a mistake in counting the absentee ballots for the race and that the electronic voting system was improperly programmed and malfunctioned. It also states that not all votes cast for the office were counted correctly, and alleges that a Clark County voter registration employee posted on social media and "openly encouraged people who did not live in the City of Charlestown to cast ballots in the election," according to the petition.
While a person who had moved within the city would still have been allowed to vote in the municipal election, even if by provisional ballot, those who had moved outside the city limits would not, according to Indiana statute.
"But when you've got somebody working within voter registration who is encouraging people who have moved out to continue to vote, that is a problem, if it has in fact happened," Gillenwater said.
Clark County Clerk Susan Popp said she did not know what Hall's petition was referencing; there was no equipment malfunction she or the election board was aware of. She said she was also unaware of anyone from her office posting inaccurate information on social media, but said that a person would be prevented from voting in the municipal election if their identification and registration was outside of city limits.
"What you don't want is shaking anyones confidence in the election," Popp said. "I think transparency and integrity in the election is of the utmost importance."
The petition questions the integrity or lawfulness of allowing Angela Cornett, a Democratic candidate in Charlestown, to work in the voter registration office, which doubles as a polling place in the month leading up to Election Day.
Popp said she had consulted with the Indiana Election Division on this, and found Cornett is allowed to work in voter registration and that it was not a violation of electioneering laws.
Dale Simmons, co-counsel for the Indiana Election Division, said that while a person is not legally prohibited from working as a deputy clerk in that office, "We tell clerks to be sensitive to the issue," he said. "[That] you might want to rethink some of the duties of your employees." Popp said Cornett did not have access to the absentee ballots.
The petition also alleges that Hall was unable to get a list of the final in-person votes who cast ballots the day before Election Day, preventing him from being able to challenge any of those votes before they were counted.
"I...reasonably believe that a deliberate act or series of actions occurred making it impossible to determine the candidate who received the highest number of votes cast in the election for the office of mayor..." it reads.
Gillenwater said he doesn't think the social media issue by itself would be enough to call for a special election, but said it's "one of several things that indicate bad judgment, mismanagement, questionable procedures or activities at the voter registration office," Gillenwater said. "I don't know if it's intentional, negligence or incompetency but it's a problem."
Popp said she stands by the election process, and invites anyone with questions to look into the clerk's office's procedures.
"I will let our policies and procedures speak for themselves," she said.
Hall previously told the News and Tribune he planned to file for a recount, so the filing was not a surprise to Hodges, who said it was certainly within his right to do so.
"I'm prepared to see through the process," she said. "I still don't believe that there were any negligence or errors with the voting process so I don't expect a big change in the outcome...I think I'll still come out the winner.
"But if it gives the community confidence going forward, then that's fine; we'll see the process through."
Neither Hodges nor her attorney Tom Lowe have indicated to the News and Tribune whether they intend to file a counter-petition.
Hall did not immediately return a message left at his office and on his phone; a staff member of the mayor's office said inquiries about the petition were to be directed to the attorney, Gillenwater.