BREAKING: 122 local ballots won’t count; they are evidence

UPDATE, 3:22 p.m. Friday:

Brown County Prosecutor Ted Adams has been working with a bipartisan team today to try to develop a way that all 122 ballots could be counted despite the initialing problems.

From Brown County Prosecutor Ted Adams:

“The Brown County Prosecutor’s Office and the Brown County Prosecutor has been working the entire day with a bipartisan team in an effort to develop a solution to the 122 ballots that have, effectively, disenfranchised voters due to allegations of forgery.  It is the sincere desire of the bipartisan Election Board and the Brown County Prosecutor’s Office to avoid such a consequence.  The bipartisan team is attempting to formulate a procedure whereby the ballots could be counted, tallied, and then returned to the custody of law enforcement for further investigation and to maintain the integrity of potential evidence. Furthermore, the Brown County Prosecutor has personally requested the Secretary of State and her team to perform an audit of Brown County’s June 2, 2020 primary election and the Brown County Prosecutor and the Brown County Election Board are working towards that end.

“The goal of today’s meetings were trifold. First, the bipartisan team wishes to avoid the disenfranchisement of any Brown County voter. Second, the bipartisan team wishes to have the Indiana Secretary of State conduct an audit of the June 2, 2020 primary election in Brown County, Indiana. Lastly, the Brown County Prosecuting Attorney has already requested a full investigation to be conducted by the Indiana State Police – Special Investigations Section.”

ORIGINAL STORY:

The Brown County Election Board has determined that 122 ballots cast in this week’s election in Brown County will not be counted because they were improperly marked before they were given to voters, in violation of election law.

Who marked them and why has not been explained.

All 122 ballots have been turned over to the Brown County prosecutor’s office, along with the sworn testimony of all members of the Brown County clerk’s office staff which was given during the May 27 election board meeting via Zoom.

At that meeting, no members of the staff admitted to marking any ballots in a way that would make it look like election board representatives had initialed them.

However, that’s what happened, Republican election board member Mark Williams alleged. He and Democrat election board proxy Michael Fulton identified one mail-in ballot in mid-May as containing initials that were not their own.

At the time, the election board was investigating how a local woman ended up receiving two absentee ballots in the mail on the same day, postmarked May 2. When those two absentee ballots were recovered, that’s when the initials were discovered.

On primary election day June 2, Williams and Democrat election board member Amy Kelso inspected all absentee ballots that had been voted by mail or early in person and weren’t disqualified for another reason, like having no voter signature on the envelope. In total, 1,395 absentee ballots were counted this election.

That day, Kelso and Williams found 122 more ballots with initials that did not match the way the board members actually write their initials, Williams said.

At the May 27 meeting, Brown County Clerk Kathy Smith had voted against the election board doing this review. The absentee board members would already be looking at the ballots, she said.

“The perpetrator of these acts assumed that the ballots would not receive such heightened scrutiny,” Williams wrote in a report on behalf of the board, which was read into the record at the June 4 election board meeting.

“The perpetrator of the aforementioned acts knowingly and intentionally caused to be presented to voters non-conforming ballots — thereby creating events that would lead to those voters being denied their vote. … Such acts are antithetical to the purpose of the Election Code … and most importantly, the sacred foundations of representative democracy,” he wrote.

Williams said he and Kelso did not count how many of the 122 improperly initialed ballots were Democrat ballots and how many were Republican ballots. They were focused on looking at the initials.

“I will say I did look at many and it did not seem to be politically unbalanced. Both parties were affected,” Kelso said.

When ballots were flagged, they went directly into an envelope which was sealed and signed by both Kelso and Williams, Kelso said. That envelope was transferred to the custody of law enforcement.

Why do the initials matter?

Since neither the Democrat nor the Republican election board representative recognizes these initials as their own, whether or not the 122 ballots were cast by real and valid voters cannot be assured. That is why the votes can’t count.

Indiana Code 3-11-4-19 requires an absentee ballot to be marked by two members of the absentee voter board, the county election board or their designated representatives before it is given to a voter.

The election board includes one Republican, one Democrat and the county clerk as secretary. Absentee voter boards also contain one Democrat and one Republican.

Angela Nussmeyer, co-director of the Indiana Election Division, explained that that procedure for reviewing ballots by a bipartisan team has existed since at least 1986.

“I hate to speculate the legislative intent here, but would assume it’s related to ensuring the bipartisan nature of our election procedures generally,” she said.

“The initials signify that the ballot card is now ‘live’ and officials have reviewed and confirmed the voter to be a qualified voter of the precinct,” Nussmeyer said. “Further, it’s a security measure to ensure the ballots are official and not a manufactured facsimile.”

In not counting the ballots, “the Board had no choice since (1) the Ballots were non-conforming to law; (2) the identity of the perpetrator was and is unknown; (3) the perpetrator’s motive and intent was and is unknown; and importantly (4) the scope of those involved is unknown,” Williams wrote in his report.

What’s next?

Prosecutor Ted Adams, a Republican, took control of the investigatory materials after the June 4 meeting. He said he’d already been in contact with the Indiana Secretary of State’s office and Indiana State Police to discuss next steps.

“This matter is no longer about county workers, Democrats and Republicans,” he said. “This investigation is needed to ensure the integrity of one of our most cherished and sacred foundations of our great Republic: a free, fair, and equal election. The Brown County Prosecutor’s Office has been and will continue to work with individuals striving to ensure the integrity of this election, regardless of political affiliation.”

Read more in the June 10 issue of the Brown County Democrat