EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — A man running for judge in southern Indiana is defending offering prizes such as an iPad and event tickets to people who "like" his Facebook page, but the judge he is seeking to oust sees it as a potential influence on voting.
The Evansville Courier & Press reports (http://bit.ly/XFUzVL) that public defender Barry Blackard says his campaign for the Vanderburgh Superior Court post is not trying to buy votes but is seeking to create a buzz.
"It has exceeded my expectations," he said.
Judge Brett Niemeier, who presides over Superior Court's juvenile division, sees the giveaways as a potential influence on voting, especially since ballot casting through absentee and early voting has already started.
"As soon as people are allowed to walk across the street and vote, then it's my personal belief it is inappropriate to be giving them anything," Niemeier said. "People should understand that judicial candidates are held to a higher standard. Our campaigns should reflect the dignity of the office."
But Blackard said he doesn't believe the practice is any different than handing out items at county fairs or raffles at a fundraiser.
Blackard said he sought an opinion from the Indiana Election Commission before proceeding with the campaign. He said the commission told him the practice 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.
He was told by the commission's Republican counsel Dale Simmons that "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 Vanderburgh County race is non-partisan.
Professor David Orentlicher, a former state representative who now teaches constitutional law and ethics at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis, said the questions raised by such campaign giveaways is symptomatic of larger concerns with the financial and political concerns of judicial elections in Indiana.
"I think it's true it doesn't violate the statutes. They are pretty limited. It's got to be pretty quid pro quo (this for that), and there is no connection directly to voting here," he said. "But it does raise the question: When you get something from a person are you going to feel like you should vote for the person? Like many other election practices, it doesn't look good."
Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, http://www.courierpress.com
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.