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On Thursday, Indiana Secretary of State Holli Sullivan visited Wabash. During her visit, she stopped by the office of Wabash County Clerk Lori Draper.

On Thursday, Indiana Secretary of State Holli Sullivan visited Wabash.

During her visit, she stopped by the office of Wabash County Clerk Lori Draper before dropping by the Plain Dealer’s office for an interview.

“You have an experienced clerk and it was great to connect with her again,” said Sullivan. Truly the visit was just to spend some time in the office here locally with your elections coordinator, voter registration and Lori to be able to one get to know each other and part of the statewide tour for all 92 counties.”

Sullivan said the point of her listening tour was to debrief after the 2020 election while they looked forward to the 2022 elections.

“Each county did a great job with the elections process. Indiana has a strong process but each county also had different obstacles within the pandemic to learn from,” said Sullivan. “Last year we had the (personal protective equipment) and if it’s needed again this year. (We) talked through the turnout and how a lot of that was early last year and a lot of the expectations and how to prepare properly for next year’s elections as well.”

In addition, she discussed several issues with the Plain Dealer including election security, increasing voter confidence, redistricting, her election campaign and more.

Election security

Sullivan said one of her top priorities as the chief elections officer of the state was to continue to educate Hoosiers on Indiana’s election process.

“The knowledge is part of building the confidence because we are getting a lot of information from other states that aren’t apples to apples as far as elections and county to county in terms of equipment,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan said that while some counties have different equipment, Wabash County does have the Voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) system. Sullivan said that while this equipment was not yet introduced during the pandemic for general use, it was “encouraging that you have voters already asking for that.”

Sullivan said that when this was rolled out it would be “a voter confidence tool.”

“Implementing that next year through your local office will then give us two new aspects. One is the voter confidence that when you push the buttons on your Microvote (direct-recording electronic) voting machine, you will then have the paper printout to verify your vote and have the opportunity to change anything right then and there if it’s not printed the way that you felt was capturing your vote. (You will) be able to update it on-site with a local poll worker and then cast your vote, (and) watch it, as a confidence issue, be counted,” said Sullivan. “The second part of that is since we have a paper trail, we can institute more audits in more counties.”

Sullivan said they had already done five post-election audits during the general election in 2020 and eight in 2020 primary elections.

“But having more VVPATs in each of our counties now allows us to do more in the future,” said Sullivan.

Federal election legislation

The For the People Act, otherwise known as H.R. 1, was passed in the House of Representatives in 2019 but never received a vote in the Senate.

In 2021, the bill again passed in the House of Representatives, but again failed in the Senate after Republicans filibustered it.

Also this year, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021, otherwise known as H.R. 4, passed the House of Representatives but failed in Senate after failing to secure 60 votes.

“H.R. 4 is an unprecedented overreach of federal power over local elections. H.R. 4 seeks to require states to get federal pre-approval for voting rights laws, a practice that the U.S. Supreme Court has already stated has limits. I urge the Senate to reject this legislation which creates an unelected federal ‘Election Czar’ with the ability to review and interfere with Indiana laws and election safeguards,” said Sullivan in August, after the bill passed the House of Representatives. “In 2020, Indiana administered a safe, secure and accessible election with the highest voter turnout since 1992. I know that Hoosier elections are best run by Hoosiers themselves. The goal of my office is to ensure that it is easier for Hoosiers to vote, but harder to cheat. H.R. 4 severely jeopardizes this goal and Indiana’s proven track record of running safe and secure elections where every legal vote cast is counted. I will do everything within the power of this office to fight against this unnecessary overreach.”

Sullivan said both of these bills were “attempts to ... take Hoosiers out of running Hoosier elections.”

“I know the best-run elections are those that are closest to the voters. And a state-run election needs to remain that way because we have our election code to follow, our own certification process and when we lose the ability to have securities around that because it becomes a federalized elections process we lose the ability to increase voter confidence at that point,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan said these two bills were similar in that they “both take a federal review of state election laws.”

“The federal government decides what is legal and not legal in each state. They do that differently. H.R. 4 takes the responsibility of election law decisions away from elected officials into a bureaucratic position at the DOJ which means then voters and democracy, in general, do not have a voice in how they want their state-run elections to happen,” said Sullivan.

‘Voter roll maintenance’

In May, Hoosier voters began to receive postcards in the mail from the Secretary of State’s office, which “mailed these postcards as part of a statewide voter list refresh,” said Sullivan’s deputy chief of staff and communications director Rachel Hoffmeyer.

“The goal is to identify outdated and inaccurate voter registration information to improve the accuracy and integrity of Indiana’s voter registration list,” said Hoffmeyer.

Hoffmeyer said postcards that were returned to the office as undeliverable would then be used to identify outdated voter registration information. If the first mailing was returned as undeliverable, a second postcard was sent to the forwarding address on file with the U.S. Postal Service. The second postcard asked the voter to confirm or update their residence address or cancel their Indiana voter registration using a postage pre-paid voter response card.

“There’s huge confidence issues of showing up and making sure you’ve got the right ballot when you turn up to vote. And to make sure we’re properly equipped for the voter turnout in each precinct or vote center by knowing how many people live there,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan said that with IndianaVoters.com Indiana was one of the first five states nationally to be able to register to vote online.

Sullivan said Hoosiers also have the opportunity when they get their driver’s license to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and to have that automatically happen to forward that communication to their county clerk.

“We have a lot of, I would say, automatic-type parameters in place right now for our residents,” said Sullivan. “We do still need the security around knowing where you live. Because even if you move one street over, you could have a different ballot. So your state (representative) might change.”

Sullivan said when she was living in Vanderburgh County as a state representative, the neighbors that lived behind her couldn’t vote for her because they were not in her district.

“It was very frustrating for them because they could say ‘hi’ to me in my backyard, but they couldn’t vote (for me) because our ballots were different. And that has to do with how you secure the rules, the voter list maintenance. That’s actually a federal law as well to increase your securities around voter list maintenance,” said Sullivan.

Mail-in voting

California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and Washington are the only states which currently conduct elections strictly through mail-in voting.

Sullivan said that while she was in the legislature for eight years she “had the opportunity to create policy then.”

“I don’t now. I get to be the one that enacts it,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan said moving Indiana to be an all-mail-in state would be a “large overhaul of election code in the state of Indiana and probably something that wouldn’t happen in a short session coming up.”

“I don’t see that happening before our next election or anything like that,” said Sullivan. “We did see an increase in early voting but substantially part of that was in-person absentee. A lot of times we say absentee and in our minds that could be paper but a lot of times that’s just early voting in person at a different vote center.”

Sullivan said she expected this sort of voting would continue to be “very strong” in the upcoming Indiana elections.

“I think Hoosiers like the convenience of vote centers,” said Sullivan. “I think Hoosiers like the convenience of, I call it vote season.”

The state legislature in 2020 increased that period by one day, so Hoosiers now have 29 days total including Election Day to be able to vote early.

“Some of that increase during the pandemic was paper-driven with an application to get your ballot and then when you get your ballot you mail it in,” said Sullivan. “That process has been in play for many years in the state of Indiana.”

Sullivan said she was comfortable with this as it was a “secure process.”

“We link and have been for many years to signature verification through your ID, your voter ID and the system which is used at the BMV and your voter registration,” said Sullivan. “The part of it that is new from last year is the electronic application. We didn’t have that before.

That is a process that needs to be reviewed because it’s new, just like any process, put some standardized practices around it. I think we could increase securities around the electronic addition to applications.”

Increasing voter confidence

Sullivan said increasing voter confidence is an “utmost issue.” She said that work begins with increasing voter education.

“It removes seeds of doubt from things that you have heard that could be myths about the process in which you engage to vote,” said Sullivan. “The foundation of our country is free and fair elections and democracy is needed. The entire governmental process was put together in a way in which in my opinion the most important part of the process is the people’s voice. So, when we lose confidence to use our voice in the process through the ballot box, we jeopardize the foundation of how the entire government process was created to run.”

Sullivan said this was one of the primary focuses of her “92-county listening tour” as the state’s chief elections officer.

“Each county, each region has maybe a different concern or aspect depending quite honestly on the media market that you’re in and what shows they watch and things like that from other states,” said Sullivan. “So I feel increasing knowledge, which we will do, is part of not only turning out the vote but also voter confidence.”

Sullivan said she was concerned that in Georgia, for example, voters stayed home after they lost confidence in the wake of the 2020 elections.

“We don’t want to replicate anything like that in the state of Indiana,” said Sullivan. “I don’t think that we will because we have a very steady hand on the wheel as far as election code and the legislature hasn’t knee-jerk reacted to anything pandemic-wise and we have had a strong foundation of election law. We just have to educate Hoosiers on what that is. And continuing the process of increasing the securities around a system of elections where people and equipment are involved.”

Redistricting

In the wake of the 2020 Census results, Indiana, like states around the country, has just completed its redistricting process.

Sullivan said this was a “large, cumbersome legislative process” which “was shortened immensely.”

“The impact on your local elections and your commissioners quite honestly is significant because they were up against some serious deadlines,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan said there was less time than usual for local leaders to process the new lines, prepare for re-precincting “which is completely at a local level, not at the state legislature level” and prepare their communities with communication about where their new lines were before they create the new ballot and open up voter registration.

“My focus as Secretary of State is to continue to help create tools to help our local elections office handle such a small time frame for that crunch,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan said they created software to help local officials to do that work electronically, as opposed to the paper-driven process it had been before.

“That’s how I can help assist in the redistricting process,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan said the legislature’s maps formed this year were “very diplomatic.”

“They look good even compared to even where we were 10 years ago as far as like communities and things. I don’t know about the particular process if we need to change that. It worked. My focus is how tight the timeline was without getting the federal information in a timely manner,” said Sullivan.

Running for election

In March, Sullivan was appointed to the Secretary of State position by Gov. Eric Holcomb. Sullivan replaced outgoing Secretary of State Connie Lawson.

On April 26, Sullivan announced her candidacy to seek election to a full term in office as Indiana Secretary of State at the upcoming Indiana Republican Party State Convention, scheduled for June 2022 in Indianapolis.

Sullivan is an automotive engineer, small business owner, wife, and mother. Before taking office as Secretary of State in March, she served eight years as State Representative for northern Evansville and Newburgh. As the current Vice-Chair of the Indiana Republican Party, Sullivan “supports conservative causes and candidates across the state,” said Brian Gamache, of Sullivan’s campaign.

“At the Statehouse, Sullivan built a legislative record of fighting and winning battles for Hoosiers, including passing funding for election cybersecurity improvements ahead of the 2020 elections. On the House Roads, Transportation, & Infrastructure Committee, she championed the successful passage of Indiana’s fully funded, 20-year infrastructure plan. Dedicated to protecting Hoosier tax dollars, she served as chair of the key House Ways & Means Budget Subcommittee where she worked to pass another balanced budget in 2021,” said Gamache.

Two days later, though, Sullivan acknowledged violating state political fundraising rules with the launch of her 2022 election campaign. Sullivan requested contributions as she announced her campaign five days earlier than allowed under changes to state law signed by Holcomb that day, according to the Associated Press. State law prohibits candidates for state offices from fundraising during the legislative sessions when the two-year state budget is drafted. Lawmakers extended their meeting deadline from the typical April 29 until November so they can return to approve new election districts.

“The Committee to Elect Holli Sullivan has determined that it made an improper solicitation of campaign funds,” Sullivan’s campaign said in a statement. “These public solicitations have been removed and all contributions have been returned.”

Sullivan said her campaign would be focused on continuing “to be a national leader in election security and integrity by continuing to increase voter confidence and knowledge of what Indiana uses as our elections process.

“We’re going to continue to future fund securities around cybersecurity and certification of our equipment that we use,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan said her campaign’s other focus is around the office’s business services division. She said the INBiz Indiana Business Registration portal was “where every business in the state of Indiana begins”

“(We had) significant new business growth in the last year,” said Sullivan. “Most of them are entrepreneurial or very small business entities that have started at an exceptional rate in our state.”

Sullivan said they would also work to correct supply chain issues between manufacturers and auto dealers in her office’s auto dealers division.

Sullivan said they would also “spend time purposefully protecting Hoosiers” in their securities divisions with investment fraud education increase throughout the state.

Rob Burgess, Wabash Plain Dealer editor, may be reached by email at rburgess@wabashplaindealer.com.