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May 12, 2012

Restoring an office’s reputation

Indiana’s new secretary of state made a stop in Logansport last week during an Election Day tour of vote centers.

Secretary of State Connie Lawson had already made a stop in Lafayette, and she planned to visit the vote center at Logansport Mall before heading south to Blackford and then Wayne County.

Her goal, she told me during a brief stop at the Pharos-Tribune, was to get a personal look at the vote centers in action. She had already visited a center in Johnson County the week before.

“It was at a cafeteria,” she said, “and the voters there were very happy.”

Not all vote centers operate in the same way, she told me. For one thing, she said, they have different kinds of equipment.

Her goal, though, is to put together a best practices manual and perhaps convince more counties to give vote centers a try. Her office has no real stake in the method counties use to run their elections, she said, other than to encourage efficiency and make voting more accessible.

“The increase in participation is what we’re interested in,” she said.

Lawson, who was appointed by Gov. Mitch Daniels in mid-March, acknowledged last week that she was still learning the job. She took over for Charlie White, who had been convicted in February of voter fraud.

Lawson admitted that her office had suffered a black eye as a result of White’s conviction.

“The first couple of weeks, it was pretty difficult,” she said. “The good news is that the business of the secretary of state’s office was being done behind the scenes. I have a very professional staff.”

Lawson said she had been doing her best to reassure voters that her office was serious about upholding the integrity of the election process. She said she had been well received in her travels around the state.

“I’m feeling much better now,” she said. “The people I’ve met have been very supportive. People are glad it’s behind us, and we can move on.”

Lawson also acknowledged that the issue of residency continued to be an issue in election campaigns. She noted the Republican U.S.

Senate race between 36-year veteran Richard Lugar and state Treasurer Richard Mourdock. Many think Mourdock’s challenge of Lugar’s eligibility played a big role in the senator’s defeat.

Lawson said she hoped to clarify the residency requirements.

“There are, I think, some ambiguities involved,” she said. “I think we’re going to try to have a legislative package that will address this issue.”

Lawson also acknowledged that another presidential primary had ended with no real participation by the voters in Indiana. Hoosier voters played a real role in the Democratic presidential contest four years ago, and for a brief moment, Lawson said, it looked like Republicans might have their turn this year.

“I think we all thought there was a possibility we might be right in the middle of it,” she said. “We actually made some early preparations to make sure we’d be ready if that came about.”

White’s predecessor, Todd Rokita, had been part of a national discussion aimed at getting more states involved in the process.

Lawson said she wasn’t familiar with those proposals, but she pledged to look into the issue and perhaps get the Legislature involved in finding a solution.

“I do know that some states have gotten themselves in trouble with the national party organizations for trying to have their primaries too early,” she said, “so we’d need to be concerned about that.”

Still, she said, there should be some way to make sure Indiana voters have a real voice in the selection process.

• Kelly Hawes is managing editor of the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5155 or kelly.hawes@pharostribune.com.

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