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Monroe County hires yet another election supervisor



Bloomington, Indiana – Because of a counting error in the November 2022 tally, a longstanding supervisor of an Indiana county resigned, and the county lost its top election official almost every other month for the past year.

Voter activists are hoping that the announcement of a supervisor who is pledging to stay in Monroe County will allay concerns about a challenging election year. A mere twelve weeks before Indiana’s May 7 primary elections to select candidates for the U.S. Senate, governor, and president, on February 12, the county clerk elevated a twenty-four-year-old elections office assistant to the position of chief.

“Given the national mood, public confidence in this election will likely be tested,” the League of Women Voters of Bloomington-Monroe County said in a January letter urging county officials to quickly fill the role.

Large responsibilities and relatively modest compensation, according to local party chairs and voting advocates, have made it challenging to retain recent recruits in Monroe. The county is a Democratic island in largely Republican Indiana, home to Indiana University and the college town of Bloomington.
Since former President Donald Trump led efforts to contest the 2020 vote counts, there has been a surge of retirements and resignations from local election offices across the nation due to increased scrutiny surrounding elections and threats to poll workers. 2024 is going to be a difficult election year because of the consequent loss of institutional expertise amid numerous changes in voting legislation.

“Not having somebody who’s experienced in doing this and familiar with our county and how things have been done in the past makes the job heavier on the people who do have to do the work,” said Debora Shaw, spokesperson for the Bloomington-Monroe League of Women Voters.

The transition at Monroe started in early 2023 when Karen Wheeler, who had been the supervisor since 2017, resigned due to criticism, primarily from her fellow Republicans, regarding an error made during the vote count in November 2022. The next morning, when the Secretary of State had already received the unofficial results, some 6,600 more votes were cast.

By nine a.m. on Wednesday, Wheeler, 67, said The Associated Press, the early voting results had been added to the unofficial total and stored on a digital storage device. She maintained her support for the work of her team but acknowledged that she accepted responsibility and resigned to avoid being dismissed by the Democratic county clerk.

“Some people are always suspicious of elections, but people who know who we are had a lot of confidence,” Wheeler said.

The AP contacted Nicole Browne, the county clerk, via phone and email, but she did not respond.
Wheeler stated that the county had hired an election training specialist before to her resignation and had prepared her to take over, but the specialist resigned a few weeks after Wheeler’s departure. Then, three more people took over for a short while; one of them only stayed for a month.

Wheeler claimed to have despised and loved her job. In addition to overseeing over eighty workers during early voting and three hundred on election day, she handled eight elections. Wheeler defined the position as a point of contact for the public, state, media, vendors, and candidates. Additionally, the election supervisor customizes each precinct’s ballot.

“It’s an extremely difficult job,” Wheeler said. “And with Monroe County the pay was pretty low” — around $37,000 for the full-time, year-round work.

A county job posting stated that the most recent hire’s beginning compensation was raised to $55,674.
Election experts at the Brennan Center for Justice, Liz Howard, noted that when elections grow more complicated and frequently altered, new officials taking on these responsibilities are less likely to know about available resources.

For instance, a law that was put out this year in Indiana would make it necessary for new voters to physically register to provide proof of residency.

“Many people are unaware of the complexity and all the work that it takes to make that process so easy for voters,” Howard said.

Although the number of such occurrences nationwide has drastically increased, none of the Monroe officials reported feeling endangered. Legislators in Indiana may increase the criminal penalty for endangering election workers, and the Justice Department has established a task force to deal with such threats.

Republican Taylor Bryant and Democrat David Henry, who chaired the Monroe party, both commended Wheeler and bemoaned the changes in leadership following her exit.

“That institutional memory is really hard to replace and replicate in a short period of time,” Henry said.

Even though Shaw, who has previously worked with the recently promoted supervisor, expressed her gratitude for Kylie Moreland’s dependability and experience, a presidential election might still go awry.

“It would be an awful job if you just got thrown in,” Wheeler said.

Last fall, Moreland became passionate about election law and the procedure. She hopes to work at “election central” for the rest of her life. She claimed that although though she doesn’t have many years of experience, she feels ready after working the November election and has the Indiana Elections Division’s endorsement.

Diego Morales, the secretary of state of Indiana, declared this year that federal cash totaling $2 million will be distributed among more than 60 counties for various purposes, including election security. Among them is not Monroe County. More financial sources are being discussed, according to his office.
Regarding Wheeler, she currently works for the county parks and recreation department and does voluntary work as a trainer for voter registration.

“I have a much easier job and I get paid the exact same,” she said.


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