Suspicious petitions got a stamped signature
Former Gov. Kernan, 12 others come forward to say they didn’t sign
EDT, October 12, 2011
SOUTH BEND – Suspected fake petition pages to place Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on the ballot during the 2008 Indiana primary passed through the county voter registration office on days when the Republican head of the office was absent, The Tribune has learned.
The pages in question bear the stamped signature of Republican Linda Silcott, indicating Silcott was not in the office at the time to sign the documents by hand. By comparison, most of the other, non-suspicious pages examined by The Tribune contain Silcott’s written signature.
Typically, petition pages in St. Joseph County are signed by hand by both the Republican and Democratic members of the Board of Voter Registration.
In early 2008, however, Silcott missed a number of days of work because of the death of her husband. Consequently, her first deputy, Mary Carrol Ringler, often stamped Silcott’s signature on the pages.
Each of the suspected fake petition pages bears Silcott’s stamped signature, indicating the documents passed through the office on days when she was off.
Though Ringler was the only person permitted to use the stamp, she kept it in an unlocked desk drawer, Silcott said.
In addition, Ringler only began working in voter registration on Jan. 22, 2008. The suspicious petition pages are dated Jan. 28 and 29 and Feb. 4 and 5, within the first two weeks of her arrival.
Ringler told The Tribune Tuesday she could not recall how often she used the stamp during the 2008 primary. “Honestly, I don’t know,” she said. “I know I didn’t do a lot petitions that year because I was brand new.” She said she mainly uses it on purchase orders now.
Pam Brunette’s written signature also appears on the backs of the suspicious petition pages. She is the Democratic member of the Board of Voter Registration.
Brunette did not respond Tuesday to a call seeking comment about the stamped pages. She said last week that voter registration workers “are not handwriting experts, so our job is basically making sure the papers are complete.”
Parties respond As part of a joint investigation, The Tribune and Howey Politics Indiana reported Sunday that dozens, if not hundreds, of signatures on petitions to place Obama and Clinton on the Indiana primary ballot in 2008 were faked in St. Joseph County.
Before that story was published, The Tribune spoke with more than 30 people whose names appeared on the petitions. All but one confirmed not signing the documents. In addition, a forensic document analyst identified a number of suspicious pages that appeared to have been filled out by a single person.
Since then, Kernan, now owner of the Silver Hawks, and 12 others have also told The Tribune they did not sign the documents.
“No, not at all,” Kernan said when asked if the signature next to his name on the Obama petition looked like his own. “Nor does the printing look like mine.”
In addition, Holcomb, the state Republican Party chair, has called on the Department of Justice to investigate the matter.
“The integrity of every election is of the utmost importance,” Holcomb said in a news release. “This weekend’s disturbing news that perhaps hundreds of ballot access petition signatures submitted by the campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are fraudulent raises real questions about the integrity of our process and whether or not those individuals should have been on the primary ballot in the first place.”
In response to the ongoing joint investigation by The Tribune and Howey Politics, county Prosecutor Michael Dvorak has launched his own investigation into the faked signatures.
That said, identifying the person or persons responsible for the fakery is a difficult task. Dozens, if not hundreds, of volunteers carried petitions on behalf of now Secretary of State Clinton and President Obama in the county in 2008, both independently and as part of each candidate’s official campaign.
In addition, receipts that would have identified the people involved in gathering signatures on behalf of the two candidates no longer exist. Voter Registration is required to keep records for only 24 months.
The Office of the Secretary of State did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment on this story. Earlier requests by phone and e-mail also went unanswered.
The Obama campaign, meanwhile, referred the matter to the Indiana Democratic Party, which issued this statement Tuesday:
“The 2008 presidential petitions … were approved and certified as valid by the Democratic and Republican members of the local … Office of Voter Registration. But even an isolated instance of misconduct … should be thoroughly investigated, and we support such an inquiry.”