INDIANAPOLIS – Election security has been the focal point of the three-way race for secretary of state this year.
Incumbent Republican Connie Lawson defends work done under her tenure to ensure the integrity of Indiana's elections, while Democrat Jim Harper and Libertarian Mark Rutherford say she hasn't gone far enough.
Indiana's secretary of state is the state's chief election officer, but the office also regulates auto dealers and securities as well as chartering new businesses.
The term lasts four years and pays about $82,500 annually.
“I decided to run and seek a second term because I'm honored to serve as secretary of state,” Lawson said. “All of the issues truly are nonpartisan. We serve the public regardless of what party they are.”
She was appointed in 2012 to fill a vacancy and then elected in 2014. She also spent more than a decade in the Indiana Senate and before than ran local elections.
Lawson counts as her accomplishments improving services to auto dealers that are regulated by her office as well as establishing and improving INBiz, a one-stop source for businesses to interact with various state agencies.
She also said her office has recovered $100 million for Hoosiers by investigating white-collar crime and scams.
Lawson pushes back on questions about whether Indiana's elections are secure, saying repeatedly that voting machines aren't hooked to the internet.
She received security clearance from the federal government so she can be on top of elections issues, and recently Indiana was awarded $7.5 million in federal funding. Lawson said the money is being used to improve how counties maintain and store election equipment. And she said the state added a two-factor authentication system for anyone accessing the statewide voter registration file.
If re-elected, she hopes to work with the General Assembly to help counties upgrade voting machines.
“Our voting machines are not connected to the internet and are virtually impossible to hack,” Lawson said. “We use best practices.”
But Harper says Lawson should have more to show for her six years in office. He said all counties should have machines that print out a receipt of each ballot cast to the voter so evidence is available if a recount is necessary or election tampering occurs.
“We've known for the last two years that our voting machines in some counties are vulnerable,” he said, saying machines can still be hacked without being connected online. He said data uploaded to the machines could be compromised, for instance.
Harper is a political newcomer from northwest Indiana who has been busy traveling the state and pushing his agenda. He is an attorney in a family law firm and previously clerked for a federal judge.
“Experts say these machines are vulnerable, and we haven't taken action to safeguard them,” he said.
While the cost to upgrade is said to be around $25 million, he said the recent federal grant could have been used to start the process.
Rutherford agrees with Harper, saying Indiana needs to ensure that an individual's vote can be verified.
He also said people need to be voting in districts “designed to serve the citizens, not the politicians” – referring to legislative districts that he said have been drawn to favor the Republican Party. He and Harper believe a bipartisan independent commission should modify districts rather than the legislature.
“Without this, citizens cannot trust their elections and democracy can fail,” Rutherford said.
The race is important for Libertarians because the party needs at least 2 percent of the total votes cast to maintain automatic ballot access. The party has received that comfortably in recent elections.
“All my life, I have served the people of Indiana by finding simple solutions to our everyday problems. Today, our government does not serve us. Government serves itself. As secretary of state, I will lead with a principled, collaborative approach, and advocate for government that serves all Hoosiers,” Rutherford said.
Harper also said Indiana needs to encourage voting instead of stifling it with a restrictive ID requirement, purging voter registrations and offering the shortest voting hours in the nation.
“I think it's important to have some new people in state government and some young people to bring different perspectives,” he said.
Indiana Secretary of State
Education: Danville High School
Occupation: Secretary of state since March 2012
Political experience: State senator for 16 years; three terms as Hendricks County clerk
Education: Law degree from Georgetown
Political experience: Unsuccessful Indiana Senate bid in 2016
Education: Law degree from Valparaiso University
Occupation: Business lawyer
Political experience: Candidate for numerous offices and former state chair of the Libertarian Party of Indiana