By Sadie Hunter
Hamilton County Commissioners, at their Aug. 14 meeting, voted unanimously to abolish the Hamilton County Board of Voter Registration.
The board, made up of one democrat, Pat Toschlog, and one republican, Bethany Sheller, is now under the authority and jurisdiction of Hamilton County Clerk Tammy Baitz.
The commissioners’ discussion took place during the regular, public meeting on Aug. 14. The public had no notice of the decision, as the discussion and approval were not listed as individual agenda items on the Aug. 14 meeting agenda.
Commissioner Steve Dillinger told Current the decision was made purely for personnel management.
“The inspiration actually came probably 4 or 5 years ago, maybe 6,” Dillinger told Current. “We had an issue with (a board of voter registration) employee; they weren’t going by the personnel policy. Those individuals work for the county (party) chairman, not the county, even though we pay them and provide (benefits). They can do whatever they want to do because they work for the party chairman, republican or democrat. That made it very unfair to our 800-some other employees.”
In Indiana, county boards of voter registration were created in 2004 after the state legislature deemed them necessary. Now, after an amendment to the law, counties have the option abolish them.
Dillinger said he had found out approximately one month ago that the law had changed and that with a unanimous vote from the county’s executive governing body, those Board of Voter Registration employees could go back to being managed by the clerk’s office, as they had prior to 2004.
Upon learning of the legislative change, Dillinger said he approached Hamilton County Elections Officer and State Rep. Kathy Richardson to confirm and subsequently asked county attorney Mike Howard to draft an ordinance to be presented at the Aug. 14 meeting. In regards to the discussion and vote on the ordinance not being made public, Dillinger said the item fell under a portion of the agenda, listed only as “attorney.”
Board members are chosen from the recommendation of each county’s party chair. In Hamilton County, on the democratic side, that’s Joe Weingarten, and on the republican side, Laura Campbell.
Both Weingarten and Campbell have said they had no knowledge of the commissioners’ decision until after it had been done.
Weingarten said he believes the action is one more step in advancing the agenda of those looking to suppress voters, “removing voter registration from a bi-partisan environment to one that is political.”
“The board basically helps people get registered to vote, and takes care of any problems. There’s a customer service element that’s involved with a system like that versus a bureaucratic system,” Weingarten told Current. “The clerk has said nothing will change, but that’s for now. What about in a year or two years? … What worries me the most is that a new clerk could … start a process of voter intimidation and efforts to limit certain voters in a partisan way.”