Arguably the most attention the Secretary of State’s office has received in the last four years was for the voter fraud scandal that ousted Charlie White, the Republican who won the seat in 2010.
Former state Senator Connie Lawson, R-Indianapolis, was appointed to the position two and half years ago.
Lawson is seeking re-election this year and says she’s not focused on Charlie White.
“From day one, my focus was to make sure that our office, the Secretary of State’s office was the most open, honest, responsive and accountable in the state,” Lawson says.
Lawson says she hopes voters are focused on her accomplishments, which she says includes protecting seniors against consumer fraud and helping businesses register with the state in an easier, faster way.
“Basically your average Hoosier didn’t have the opportunity to invest,” she says.
But Lawson’s opponent, Beth White, D-Indianapolis, says Hoosiers aren’t focused on Lawson’s accomplishments because Hoosiers don’t know what Lawson does.
White says when she’s speaking with voters, a big part of the conversation is just educating them about the role of the Secretary of State. The state’s chief election officer should be the face of voting, White says, the way she says she’s been as Marion County Clerk the last seven years.
“Everywhere I go, people – the grocery store, the dry cleaner – they say to me, ‘Oh, you’re the voting lady,’” White says.
One of the tent poles of White’s campaign is making voting easier. She says that includes keeping polls open later, allowing students to use their IDs to vote and giving voters the option of mailing in their ballots without having to provide a reason.
“This, again, is a baby step,” White says. “It wouldn’t cost the state anything, and my opponent voted against it repeatedly in the state Senate.”
White says Indiana needs a voting advocate. Lawson says that’s exactly what she’s been in her time as a state Senator, where she chaired the Elections Committee.
“We passed the ability for someone to vote early, 28 days before the election, so that had not been a possibility,” Lawson says. “We passed legislation that obviously allowed the vote centers and that capability; we passed legislation that allowed any county to use an electronic poll book.”
But White says it’s another part of Lawson’s voting record that Hoosiers should focus on.
When a federal judge struck down Indiana’s same sex marriage ban earlier this year , White, as county clerk, immediately began giving out licenses and marrying same sex couples at her office. She notes that twice in the state Senate, Lawson voted for a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage.
“So I think our positions are very clear and very different,” White says. “I believe in equality for everybody; I believe that government ought to provide services to people without discrimination.”
Lawson says her votes were in line with the beliefs of the people living in her district.
“The Secretary of State’s office does not affect that issue in any way and the things that we do affect, we’ve worked hard to make sure that we represent all voters and we’ve been doing a good job on that.” Lawson says.
Lawson says she hopes when voters go to the polls Nov. 4, the issue on their minds is the security and integrity of their vote. She says her experience in local government as a county clerk, as a legislator and as Secretary of State helps ensure that
“I have stood for accessibility and flexibility for voters but I also believe in the security and the integrity of the system.”
White says Hoosiers should focus on restoring balance to state government, noting that Republicans control both houses in the General Assembly and all but one statewide elected office
“And I think that people are not well-served by the notion that we have one set of voices, one ideological voice, one group of people who really control almost everything.”
White notes that as county clerk, she’s worked well with a Republican mayor. Lawson says the Secretary of State’s office shouldn’t be a place for a hyperpartisan politician.