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Republican Morales won't engage as Democrats look to take secretary of state's office

Still images, side-by-side, taken from video interviews with candidates for Indiana Secretary of State. Democrat Destiny Wells is on the left. She is a White woman with dark hair wearing a green top. Libertarian Jeff Maurer is on the right. He is a White man with dark, graying hair, wearing a dark suit, white shirt and light blue tie.
Alan Mbathi
/
IPB News
Democrat Destiny Wells, left, and Libertarian Jeff Maurer, right, sat down for interviews with IPB News about the Indiana secretary of state race. Republican Diego Morales refused to participate.

Lies and disinformation about the 2020 election have put a bright spotlight on secretary of state races across the country this year. And Indiana is no different.

Thanks in part to controversies with the Republican candidate, Democrats here likely have their best chance at retaking the office in three decades.

For weeks, Diego Morales has largely refused – or doesn’t respond to – interview requests. He’s avoided candidate forums and debates. And from his social media feed, a significant majority of campaign appearances are at local Republican party events.

Libertarian secretary of state candidate Jeff Maurer said that should concern Hoosiers.

“If you have a candidate who is truly that unresponsive and that unable to connect with, how are they going to be in office?" Maurer said. "That’s not a government that answers to us.”

Democrat Destiny Wells said Morales has found himself “pigeonholed” by what he’s said and done.

“He’s called the election a scam," Wells said. "He’s been unable to really have answers as to why he was fired from the secretary of state’s office … other than what we see in the documents that said he was just really a poor worker. His military record has come under question.”

Morales has also come under fire for proposing greater restrictions to early in-person and mail-in voting (which he’s backed away from) and allegations of sexual misconduct by two women he worked with more than a decade ago (which he denies).

Watch the one-on-one secretary of state candidate interviews with Democrat Destiny Wells and Libertarian Jeff Maurer.

Laura Wilson, University of Indianapolis associate professor of political science, said, for a campaign marred by controversy, Morales’s strategy makes sense – appealing solely to a Republican base that, if they show up, would likely deliver him victory.

But she said it’s also a risky strategy.

“Essentially, you’re not focused on any of the other voters who, if they’re not already part of the diehard Republican base, may not know anything else about you,” Wilson said.

The race isn’t just about Morales. It’s also about issues, particularly around elections, that voters are paying closer attention to than ever.

Both Wells and Maurer agree on the top issue this cycle: faith and confidence in elections and election officials. But how they address those are very different.

They both recognize that Joe Biden is the duly elected president.

But Maurer said to restore trust in elections, officials have to prove that fraud didn’t occur.

How do you prove a negative? Maurer wants a receipt for every voter after they cast their ballot. And he wants audits in all 92 counties after each election.

“The leadership that’s needed in this office is to show this," Maurer said. "Show it like an open kitchen, show it like it’s your fifth grade math homework – show your work. And let’s take credit for what’s good and what’s working and what’s secure and let’s work on fixing and strengthening those vulnerabilities.”

Wells agrees that the state can always improve election security. But she said Maurer’s plan for receipts and audits is costly, unnecessary and helps sow the seeds of election denialism.

“There have been over 50 court cases that have litigated this issue and found that there was no concerted effort for fraud," Wells said. "And so, as secretary of state, it is our moral obligation to make sure that we are informing and educating Hoosiers and always being fact-based in the information that we put out.”

Wells’s focus is on making voting easier for Hoosiers – like, for instance, allowing anyone to be able to vote by mail.

“I think that the states that have no-excuse absentee voting are doing much better than Indiana in their voter turnout because they have made voting more accessible,” Wells said.

Maurer doesn’t believe Hoosiers want such a change and won’t push for it.

“I think we need to have trust in the system we have first, before adding a new variable,” Maurer said.

READ MORE: What do I need on Election Day? The midterm election is Nov. 8

Join the conversation and sign up for the Indiana Two-Way. Text "Indiana" to 73224. Your comments and questions in response to our weekly text help us find the answers you need leading up to Election Day.

Without being able to ask him questions in an interview or out on the campaign trail, it's hard to know the specific of what, if anything, Diego Morales would advocate for as secretary of state.

Laura Wilson said the implications of this election could echo into the future if Morales’s strategy of avoiding just about anyone but his voter base succeeds – because it could inspire more candidates to follow his lead.

“I worry about that, quite frankly, because that kind of engagement with voters or the proxy for voters, so the media being able to ask questions that voters want to know – absent that interaction and that relationship, voters are left to Twitter feeds and campaign websites," Wilson said. "That’s all voters have to make an educated decision.”

So, in many ways, it’s voters themselves who can help decide today how much candidates will engage with them tomorrow.

Contact reporter Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

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Brandon Smith has covered the Statehouse for Indiana Public Broadcasting for more than a decade, spanning three governors and a dozen legislative sessions. He's also the host of Indiana Week in Review, a weekly political and policy discussion program seen and heard across the state. He previously worked at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and WSPY in Plano, Illinois. His first job in radio was in another state capitol - Jefferson City, Missouri - as a reporter for three stations around the Show-Me State.