Local political science experts say getting voters to sign a piece of paper to put two well-known Democratic candidates on the 2008 presidential primary ballot should have been easy.
Court documents say former St. Joseph County Democratic Party chair, Butch Morgan, ordered four former voter registration workers to forge signatures on ballot petitions for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primary. Morgan, Pam Brunette, Bev Shelton and Dustin Blythe face felony petition fraud charges. The fourth man, who apparently told police what happened and that he played a role in it, has not been charged.
The process to get a major party candidate's name on a presidential primary ballot in Indiana is pretty straightforward. The law says a written request for each candidate must include a petition with 500 signatures from each of the state's congressional districts.
“That sounds like baby’s work. I mean, what should be so difficult about that?” asked Peri Arnold, University of Notre Dame political science professor.
Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District is a huge chunk of northern Indiana that includes St. Joseph, LaPorte and part of Elkhart Counties.
According to voter registration records, more than 72,000 registered voters in St. Joseph County and approximately 150,000 in the 2nd District cast ballots in the 2008 primary.
Records also show 2nd District Democrat Congressman Joe Donnelly received more than 119,000 votes in that race. He ran uncontested.
“You can only conclude that Butch Morgan and his people, the Democratic organization in these counties, either lost track of their calendar or they're utterly, utterly inept,” Arnold said. “There are two things here. There’s embarrassment, but I also know a couple people who I respect who are active Democrats who have never thought that well of Butch Morgan. And their reaction is kind of, ‘I’m not surprised.’”
Arnold maintains the integrity of the electoral process is safe, saying the allegations against Morgan and the three former members of the county’s voter registration office have nothing to do with the validity, lawfulness and the integrity of the electoral process.
“Our ballots are safe, the elections are about as honest as they're going to be, given our inefficiencies,” he said.
Both Arnold and IU South Bend Political Science professor Elizabeth Bennion said accusations such as this one lead to more controversy in the long run.
Morgan served as the county’s Democratic chairman more than 15 years. Bennion said it’s only natural for people to question and investigate whether petitions may have been forged in the past.
Morgan and the other three charged party members are due in St. Joseph Superior Court April 16.