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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Ind. Courts - Vanderburgh Superior Court candidate says "his campaign is not buying votes with Facebook giveaways of prizes such as an iPad and event tickets"

See Mark Wilson's long story today in the Evansville Courier & Press. Some quotes:

The Vanderburgh Superior Court candidate defended the giveaways as savvy marketing and an Internet extension of the long-standing practice of handing out campaign keepsake materials. Blackard said he sought an opinion from the Indiana Election Commission before going forward with the idea.

"It's no different, in my opinion, than handing out items at county fairs or raffles at a fundraiser, except mine you just hit "like," he said.

Blackard said he has received a positive response and noted his campaign Facebook page had more than 5,000 followers.

"I wanted to create a buzz among young voters, and it has exceeded my expectations," he said.

A 32-year-old public defender who has practiced law for five years, Blackard is running against Judge Brett Niemeier, who presides over Superior Court's juvenile division. He has made ethics one of the cornerstones of his campaign with his pledge to not accept contributions from attorneys or others who might come before the court if he is elected. * * *

While Blackard sees the giveaways as part of a campaign strategy that builds on social media's innate grass roots appeal and openness to cross marketing plans, Niemeier said he sees it as a potential influence on voting, especially since ballot casting through absentee and early voting has already started. * * *

Blackard shared the email exchange he had individually with Indiana Election Commission director Brad King, its Democrat counsel Leslie Barns and Republican counsel Dale Simmons. All three told Blackard giving away items in exchange for liking a candidate's page on Facebook did not violate Indiana election statute.

That law prohibits someone from paying or offering something of value in exchange for applying for an absentee ballot, casting an absentee ballot, registering to vote or voting.

"In fact, campaigns routinely and legitimately pay people salaries to engage in electioneering activity like this (promoting candidates on the Internet or distributing and placing yard signs)," Simmons wrote. "The only questions that can arise in this context is whether payments made to people are a 'pretext' for vote buying. This will depend on the specific facts of a particular case."

Simmons went on to write Blackard that he didn't believe the giveaways compared with other examples of vote buying he knew about, but he cautioned: "I just want to indicate that seeming legitimate activity can be used as a pretext for vote buying in extreme circumstances so that my views expressed here cannot be misused by others as justification for wrongdoing."

The story continues with a section beginning:
Former Indiana Supreme Court chief justice and Evansville native Randall Shepard said merit selection removes judges from perceptions of inequality in the courtroom and also from the tendency of "down ballot" offices such as judges to win elections based on their affiliation with the prevailing political party in any given year.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on October 28, 2012 04:15 PM
Posted to Indiana Courts