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Secretary of state candidates battle over voting issues

October 29, 2014

Democrat Beth White is banking that Hoosiers are ready for a change as she fights to unseat Republican Connie Lawson from the secretary of state’s office.
Secretary of State Connie Lawson is asking voters for a full term in the office.

But White – who currently serves as the Marion County clerk – is facing an uphill battle. No Democrat has held the job for 20 years.

Still, Lawson – a former state senator and Hendricks County clerk – is not your typical incumbent. She was appointed to the post in 2012 after Republican Charlie White was convicted of voter fraud and forced to resign.

Now, she says she’d like more time in the office to continue working on changes she actually started making while serving in the legislature.

“As secretary of state, I have been focusing on lots of issues that will increase voter accessibility,” Lawson said. “I was a clerk for eight years and had successful elections by working with both parties. I have been working on common sense election reforms to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat.”

Overseeing elections and the Indiana Election Division is just one part of the secretary of state’s job. But both candidates have made voter accessibility a key part of their campaigns.

In the General Assembly, Lawson served as chairwoman of the Senate Elections Committee, where she pushed legislation to require voters to show identification when they come the polls. She’s also advocated for vote centers, which consolidate multiple precincts into fewer polling locations, and backed legislation to allow early voting.

White, however, doesn’t believe the Lawson-backed changes are actually all that voter-friendly. And White said that, generally, Indiana’s laws make it much harder for people to vote. She pointed to the state’s voting hours, which run only to 6 p.m., and mail-in voting regulations she thinks are too restrictive.

“Her perspective on elections in particular (is creating) barriers that make it harder to vote and having stricter voting laws,” White said. “My perspective (revolves) more around advocacy for the voter and I want to make sure they have the info they need. I want to make voting work for people.”

White, who has served as the Marion County clerk for the past eight years, has directed 14 different elections, a number she said more than any other clerk in modern history. She said that background makes her especially qualified for the post.

“Hoosiers deserve an advocate for the voter to make sure the voting works for the people of Indiana. For eight years, I worked hard to make sure voting can work for the people of my community,” White said. “ We registered thousands of new voters and we would like expand our ideas and make them available to the state.”

The secretary of state’s office is about more than elections. It also oversees business registrations, securities regulations and even auto dealer services.

While in office, Lawson says her time has been productive. In addition to working on voter legislation, Lawson has focused on white collar-crime and educating young and elderly Hoosiers alike about the dangers of fraud and financial stability.

She has visited more than 200 schools and senior organizations to educate each people about money safety and responsibility. Lawson says the work is important.

“We’ve done a lot of great work,” Lawson said. Security efforts “will continue to focus on fraudsters and focus on preventing that in the first place for both seniors and high school. It’s a huge priority. In our security division, we work with county prosecutors to put fraud artists behind bars for years and have collected $100 million for investment fraud victims. I’ve been in office for 2-1/2 years and got a lot done and want to continue progress.”

White said if elected, she would focus on becoming an advocate for Hoosier entrepreneurs and help them connect with the state tools they need to be successful. She also wants to make it easier for Indiana-based businesses to get contracts with state government and simpler for Hoosiers to search for information about companies.

If Lawson wins, she says it will be beneficial to walk back into the office knowing what type of work needs to continue.

Both women continue to campaign across the state as they talk with Hoosiers about their platforms and ideas. Both say they have received lots of positive feedback from those they have visited.

White knows Lawson and her views differ, but she says that an informed public will make the decision that benefits Indiana.

“We have contrasts voters need to be aware of. Every election is about choices,” White said. “I encourage voters to look at the two of us, realize what we can do, and (vote for) what is best for the state of Indiana.”

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Recent Articles by Hannah Troyer, The Statehouse File

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