(A commentary by Dan Drexler.)
It’s an unfortunate reality.
As society, we much prefer to pass quick judgment on our neighbors than to allow due process run its course. The presumption of innocence appears to have taken a backseat in an electronic age of blogging, tweeting and musing on social networking sites.
As individuals, it is unfortunate that so many of us have grown so cynical that we prefer to be proven correct in our “presumption of guilt” than to be thankful when someone is exonerated. Nowhere is this more evident than in the political arena today. From paparazzi-styled stalking of our celebrated officials to community-wide condemnation of U.S. Supreme Court rulings, there appears to be too little justice to appease our appetites for scandal.
This week saw Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White indicted on seven felony counts. Voter fraud, perjury, theft – all very serious charges against our State’s preeminent gatekeeper of fair elections. However unsettling those charges are, what troubles me more is that the presumption of innocence that should be granted White through his trial was quickly upturned by Governor Daniels and Indiana’s political elite. In Indiana, apparently one is innocent until it is proven politically inconvenient.
White’s alleged indiscretions were discussed long before the polls opened in early November. Democrat candidate for Secretary of State, Vop Osili, ran numerous network television commercials spotlighting White’s residency concerns. Major media outlets across the state covered the story. Secretary of State Todd Rokita dodged the issue by noting he had done all he could do until special prosecutors investigated the claims. With the electoral consequences steep, no Republican official stepped up to suggest White step aside before the election.
White won going away. He garnered more than 60% of the statewide vote in a race that included Osili and Libertarian Party candidate Mike Wherry. Baggage and all, the public spoke and they chose White. GOP faithful across the state celebrated the resounding victory as proof that White had done nothing wrong. Vindication was his.
Then came this week. Then came the indictments. Then came Governor Daniels, with eyes turned toward 2012 and 1600 Pennsylvania Street, announcing that his long-time friend, fundraiser and former GOP County Chairman, Charlie White, should “do the right thing” and step aside. No mention of due process. No mention of innocence until proven otherwise. Nope, our governor said, “Sorry, Charlie.” It had simply grown too inconvenient for Mitch Daniels to support due process or allow White his day in court.
White’s indictment should be viewed as an indictment of an electoral system that has not kept pace with the times. Indiana’s stringent ballot access laws, complicated filing deadlines and confusing financial disclosure forms should be on trial. Hoosier lawmakers owe it to the state’s citizens to revisit Indiana’s prohibitive election law and introduce common sense into election statute.
I was fortunate to have served on Wherry’s campaign team last year. As we planned a campaign strategy, we unanimously agreed that we needed to expand upon the party’s message of sensible redistricting and transparent elections. With the most public attention paid to oversight of elections, we focused our campaign efforts on several needed reforms:
- Lowering the ballot access threshold from 2% to one-half of 1%;
- Allowing ballot access to be gained by eclipsing that mark in any statewide race, not limited to the Secretary of State’s race;
- Expanding local and state election boards to include representation from all parties that appear on the ballot;
- Ensuring our votes are counted by moving away from electronic voting systems that do not provide an audit-able paper trail; and,
- Affording voters the opportunity to recall wayward elected officials.
One could argue inclusion of a late-comer to that list – enforcing our election laws uniformly. Because our laws are so poorly written, the reality is they are not being applied uniformly and fairly at any level. From local election board decisions to federal rulings, inconsistency rules the day.
Rather than preemptively call for White to step aside before the election, Republican leadership and the media allowed this circus to move forward until now. It was far too inconvenient for them to tackle this issue when it arose. Rather, it’s more convenient to ignore due process and assign guilt after the election.
Although White has not been a friend to our Libertarian Party efforts over the years, I am one libertarian that believes he should stay the course. What he faces now is not merely about politics and fair elections. He is facing a criminal trial. He deserves the presumption of innocence that comes with being the accused. He does not deserve the opportunistic catcalls that come from elected officials merely trying to distance themselves from the political inconvenience they helped foster.
Drexler is Vice Chairman of the Libertarian Party of Indiana and worked on the Mike Wherry for Secretary of State campaign. The views expressed here are his and are not necessarily the views of the LPIN nor Wherry campaign.