By Gina Burgess
On Monday, May 16th, a local citizen, Gina Burgess, was on Facebook. Her post regarding what she considered to be an unfair challenge by the Allen County Democratic Party of Schrader’s candidacy caught the attention of party Spokesman Kevin Knuth, the person who challenged Schrader’s eligibility. During the course of their online interaction, consisting of some 37 comments in a half hour time frame, Knuth challenged Burgess.
“Here, I will make you a deal- if you think he [Schrader] is right, and your interpretation of code is correct, then fund his appeal in Circuit Court…..”
Burgess accepted the challenge, stating: “Kevin….are you really attempting to make this personal?? Sure, I’ll accept the challenge…I’m neither a lawyer nor a professional political…I’m not part of the political machine for either party. But I am a private citizen, a registered voter, and a constituent of Allen County. Do me a favor, give me the tools needed to make sure Schrader gets a fair shake…and I’ll do my best to make sure he takes advantage of it.”
Since then, Burgess contacted Schrader to find out his version of events and she contacted the Election Board to find out their version of events. She soon discovered that the Allen County Election Board acted improperly and prematurely. According to election guidelines and state law, candidate challenges have to take place in at a public hearing and the public has to be notified of the hearing 48 hours in advance. The transcripts from May 13th’s meeting clearly show that this wasn’t done.
Burgess sent an email to the Allen County Election Board notifying them of their procedural error and requested that they vacate their earlier decision and rehear the matter properly. Burgess also presented evidence showing Mr. Schrader’s intent to return to Fort Wayne and not make Green Bay his permanent residence as well as documented a timeline of events she deems a tragedy of errors. One such error was that Wisconsin should have never permitted Schrader to vote there as he plainly indicated that he was a resident of Indiana. (Note: The fax from the Green Bay Clerk to the Allen County Election Board came on May 19th, or 6th days after the boards decision to remove Schrader from the ballot. This means that the Election Board used evidence to make a decision that they had never even seen before.)
In her timeline, she explains why Schrader was unable to return to Fort Wayne to vote for himself and why he registered to vote in Wisconsin. She also hints to the existence of a neutral third party who can vouch that Mr. Schrader was indeed a resident of Fort Wayne, Indiana for the past six to seven years, independent of Election Board records which could show he was a resident of Fort Wayne since 1999.
What makes this story even more interesting is that Burgess openly admits she, herself, is not likely to vote for Schrader.
An e-mail sent to the Allen County Election Board on May 25th:
Dear Members of the Allen County Election Board:
I am respectfully writing you today to remedy an unfortunate error in procedure and breakdown in communication as it regards Candidate Tommy Schrader. Further, I seek a vacation of the decision to remove Mr. Schrader from the ballot of the November, 2011 general election and request a hearing on the matter consistent with Indiana’s Open Door Law.
ERROR IN PROCEDURE: ELECTION BOARD FAILED TO GIVE NOTICE AND FAILED TO HOLD PROPER HEARING
On Friday, May 13th, a meeting was held by the Allen County Election Board covering a variety of topics as listed on the Agenda of the same date. Item 2 on that Agenda was the candidate filing challenge of Mr. Tommy Schrader, as presented by Allen County Democratic Spokesman Kevin Knuth. According to the transcript of the May 13th meeting (page 4, lines 69 – 70), the purpose of this part of the Election Board’s monthly meeting was to discuss the fact that a petition was filed and NOT to have a hearing on the matter.
In fact, pursuant to the 2011 Indiana Candidate Guide (page 6) and I.C. 5-14-1.5:
“All election board meetings concerning candidate challenges are public meetings, for which notice must be given in accordance with the Open Door Law.”
The Open Door Law , pursuant to I.C. 5-14-1.5-5(a) concerning pubic notice of meeting, states:
“Public notice of the date, time, and place of any meetings, executive sessions, or of any rescheduled or reconvened meeting, shall be given at least forty-eight (48) hours (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays)before the meeting. This requirement does not apply to reconvened meetings (not including executive sessions) where announcement of the date, time, and place of the reconvened meeting is made at the original meeting and recorded in the memoranda and minutes thereof, and there is no change in the agenda.”
In the transcript of May 13th’s meeting, Beth Dlug admits “To be fair I don’t know that we gave any kind of formal notice that there was going to be a hearing on this matter today. We put it on our agenda to discuss but I don’t think we sent out notices that there was going to be a hearing.” (See transcript, page 4, lines 66-68)
By failing to provide notice that there was a hearing, you denied the public the right to give input and you denied Mr. Schrader the opportunity to properly defend himself. Mr. Schrader thought this was merely a fact-finding meeting to determine whether the challenge raised had any merits to proceed with an actual hearing. It’s obvious from the transcript that Mr. Schrader wasn’t alone in this confusion.
Mr. Schrader has evidence that will show he never gave up his Indiana residency, including the possible testimony of a neutral third party who can vouch that Mr. Schrader was indeed a resident of Fort Wayne, Indiana for the past six to seven years. Further, the Election Board’s own records prove Mr. Schrader has been a resident of Fort Wayne, Indiana since 1999, as that is when he began running for various public offices.
Finally, Mr. Schrader has evidence proving he was on vacation and showing that his intent was to return to Fort Wayne. On May 5th, local news media, WANE-TV, broadcast an interview they conducted with Mr. Schrader’s landlord. During their interview, the landlord states that Mr. Schrader is on vacation and intends to come back: “He’s looking forward to coming back and running a strong campaign he [Schrader] told me.” This public broadcast was uploaded to YouTube by WANE-TV (https://youtu.be/JCg2_SsvWv0) five days before Kevin Knuth filed his challenge and eight days before the Allen County Election Board met with Mr. Schrader.
BREAKDOWN IN COMMUNICATION
The Election Board asked Mr. Schrader several questions and the manner in which those questions were asked was rather leading. This forced Mr. Schrader to respond but failed to give him an opportunity to actually explain his answers. There are several times in the transcript that it appears that members of the Election Board are more interested in interrogating Mr. Schrader than in listening to his answers or trying to understand him. More than once, Mr. Schrader’s answers are even cut off before he has chance to complete himself. (See transcript, page 6, lines 111-115) On one occasion, Mr. Schrader obviously doesn’t understand the question, is getting flustered and frustrated with the Election Board and the Election Board is obviously becoming frustrated with him. (See transcript, page 6, line 129 through page 7, line 139)
This breakdown in communication prevented the Election Board from conducting adequate fact finding, which was the original purpose of this meeting. Somehow this “meeting” unilaterally and accidentally morphed into an improper hearing. (See transcript, page 8, line 169 through page 9, line 203)
Had a breakdown in communication not happened, the Election Board would have learned the following facts, a tragedy of errors:
1. When Mr. Schrader left for vacation in Wisconsin, he did not have his mail put on vacation hold nor did he have it forwarded to his hotel in Wisconsin. He was living from check to check and was anticipating a check to be delivered early-April to his apartment on Edgewater in Fort Wayne. He asked his landlord to forward that check to him in Wisconsin and his landlord agreed to do so. If Mr. Schrader stopped his mail and put it on vacation hold, the check would not have been made available to his landlord to forward. If Mr. Schrader had his mail forwarded to Wisconsin, then it would have looked like he was moving there.
2. When Mr. Schrader’s Social Security check came in April, his landlord tried to forward the check to him as they agreed. However, the landlord mistakenly forwarded the check to the wrong address and it came back to the landlord weeks later. Because the check was seemingly lost in the mail and because Mr. Schrader was without any money as result of that loss, he did what anyone would do in his situationâ€¦.he contacted Social Security and requested that they forward that one and only check to him in Wisconsin. Otherwise, he would have never had the money to come back to Indiana. Mr. Schrader tried to articulate this to the Election Board, but the Election Board didn’t understand the significance of this event, choosing instead to interrupt and ignore Mr. Schrader. (See transcript, page 6, lines 107 – 115)
3. By the time Mr. Schrader contacted Social Security and had his check re-routed, he was staying in a homeless shelter. The homeless shelter was having a voter registration event and Mr. Schrader was encouraged to register to vote. Mr. Schrader did not know when his check would come from Social Security, was not sure if he’d make it back to Fort Wayne in time to vote for himself, so he registered to vote, to preserve his constitutional right to vote. Mr. Schrader was NOT attempting to set up residency in Wisconsin. Matter of fact, Mr. Schrader completed the voter registration form by using his Indiana issued ID card, making no secret he was an Indiana resident by specifically and plainly noting on the Wisconsin voter registration form that his ID was from Indiana. (See completed Wisconsin Registration form, page 3 in fax from Green Bay Clerks office) Mr. Schrader relied on Wisconsin to tell him he couldn’t vote in their elections as an Indiana resident and Wisconsin failed to do so. Had the Clerk told him he couldn’t vote and had he had adequate funds to return to Indiana, he would have done so to cast a vote for himself, just like he did in every other election he’s ever ran in since 1999, a fact the Election Board can verify.
4. By the time his check finally came and he settled up accounts, he had voted and what was done was done. After several weeks of stress in not knowing where or when he was going to get his Social Security check, he was hoping to leave the shelter and continue on with his vacationâ€¦.the first one he’d had since 2006. At that point, Mr. Schrader had no idea how long he’d be on vacation. He just wanted to relax and unwind after everything that had gone on. However, instead of continuing on with his vacation, pursuant to conversations he had with his mother about how he had won and how somebody said he was going to be taken off the ballot if he didn’t come back, he cut his vacation short and came back to Fort Wayne. Again, this was something that Mr. Schrader tried to explain, but was unable to articulate in a way the Election Board could understand or was willing to understand. (See transcript, page 7, line 137 – 144, and page 8, line 169, through page 9, line 199)
5. Now, in the meantime, as all this was happening, back at his apartment on Edgewater, Mr. Schrader’s landlord took possession of Mr. Schrader’s apartment and did so without a legal eviction. The landlord has a duplex and a quadplex on and/or around Edgewater and had a possible new tenant interested in Mr. Schrader’s unit. Because of the delay in the Social Security check, Mr. Schrader was unable to pay the monthly rent for the unit and the landlord was understandably not willing to give up the revenue already being lost. This left Mr. Schrader without a dwelling unit to return to when he came home to Fort Wayne.
Further, had a breakdown in communication not happened, the Election Board would have been more apt to ask some serious questions concerning this challenge. For example:
1. Why did the Democratic Party challenge Mr. Schrader’s candidacy after he won the May primary and not before? In the letter that accompanies Mr. Knuth’s challenge, he refers to mail sent to Mr. Schrader being returned to the Allen County Election Board. The problem is that this mail was returned in April, before the elections. So why didn’t Mr. Knuth raise the challenge then instead of waiting to after the primary and after Mr. Schrader won, beating out two other Democratic contenders?
2. Why did the Democratic Party challenge Mr. Schrader’s residency as it pertained to I.C. 3-8-1-27, which states that the candidate has to reside in the city for at least one year prior to the election? This challenge seems very odd when you review Mr. Schrader’s history of running in various local elections prior to 2011 on the Democratic ticket, such as his most recent 2010 bid for Congress or the fact that Mr. Schrader has been running for local elections since 1999. Surely this candidate’s history of local electoral participation establishes more than adequate residency pursuant to I.C. 3-8-1-27.
Of course, it would have been difficult for the Election Board to ask such questions of Mr. Knuth, given that he, himself, was not present at the meeting-turned-hearing. In fairness to Mr. Knuth, just like Mr. Schrader, he was probably unaware that the Election Board was going to turn the May 13th meeting into a hearing.
Given the above facts, the lack of notice required for such a hearing, and the duty imposed on the Election Board to oversee candidate challenges (See 2011 Indiana Candidates Guide, page 6), I request that the premature decision rendered at the May 13th meeting of the Allen County Election Board to remove Tommy Schrader from the November general election ballot be vacated and the matter set for a hearing whereby proper notice is given to the public, whereby Challenger Kevin Knuth has an opportunity to present his side and Candidate-Elect Tommy Schrader has an opportunity to respond, present evidence towards his defense and be heard, really heard, by the Allen County Election Board.
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