After allegations of election fraud during the last presidential election surfaced in Indiana, dozens of Republican county and state officials in Indiana are taking lessons on how to prevent mischief in the presidential nominating petition process.
A seminar in LaPorte, Ind., for Republicans was called after the revelations of what is alleged to have happened in the Hoosier state four years ago, when signatures and names were allegedly falsified on documents that got then-Democratic candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on the ballot. Similar accusations have surfaced elsewhere during the current 2012 contest for the White House.
"It's a travesty, it's just very sad to think that this stuff goes on, but it does," said Prudy Holzhausen, vice-chairwoman of the Elkhart, Ind., Republican Party
In South Bend, St. Joseph County Prosecutor Mike Dvorak is investigating allegations that numerous names and signatures on the 2008 Democratic presidential primary petitions were fakes. In fact, so many signatures are said to have been forged, that there are questions as to whether the President's campaign even had enough legal signatures to have qualified for the ballot.
"You do trust the system," said Holzhausen, who remembers as a child meeting 1948 GOP presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey, the famous law and order gangbuster. "And then something like this comes along. It made me darned angry when I heard about it because I don't want things like this to go on. It's very disheartening."
The seminar was sponsored by the state Republican Party with the goal of preparing officials to process the petitions. Campaigns can turn in the petitions to election boards starting this week.
State GOP official Justin Garrett cautioned the gathering that "any election can come down to two votes. Well, getting someone on the ballot can come down to a couple of names ... so as Republicans, we've got to make sure that we're doing it right."
Garrett reviewed election law and offered tips on how to spot possible fraud, and advised the officials to try and double-check names and to inspect the signatures on petitions to try and ferret out any that appear to be similar handwriting.
"We've done this before, we know how to do it by the law, and we are going to do it that way," Garrett said.
The office of Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White has gone further.
For the first time, the state is scanning the presidential petitions that have been certified by local election boards and posting them online for everyone to see.
"These are public documents, there is no reason that they can't be distributed early and quickly over the Internet so people can look," said Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, a Republican who also addressed the group.
He told Fox News that the fraud alleged on the Obama and Clinton petitions in South Bend is "somewhat rare, so I think the protections that we have probably do quite a bit of good."
But he concedes that "when you see something like this in St. Joseph County, it really goes to undermine the public confidence in our system."
"We need to make sure that we've done as much as we can to protect the integrity of our election system," he said.
"We believe this to be an isolated case," said Shaw Friedman, a LaPorte lawyer and former county Democratic chairman, as well as former general counsel to the state Democratic Party. He now represents the only official who has fallen victim to the petition forgery scandal, former St. Joseph County Democratic Chairman Butch Morgan, who resigned when the allegations hit in October, but has denied any wrongdoing.
"Ordinarily this kind of thing is picked up at the voter registration office level and it was surprising this particular case that it wasn't, but fortunately over the years the history has been that if there are questionable signatures it's ordinarily detected. There is always a desire, I think on the part of both political parties, at least in Indiana, to ensure the process is one that can be relied on, is consistent, fair and uniform," Shaw said.
But the chairwoman of the St. Joseph County Republican Party, Deborah Fleming, said she is worried that some have not taken the possibility of election fraud seriously enough.
"When it came to light that the Democrats had done something like this in South Bend, a lot of people in South Bend rolled their eyes and went, 'ugh, yeah it's the Democrat Party what do you expect?' So they know that things like this have happened in the past. But what has never happened in the past is now they've gotten caught, and now they've gotten caught with their hand in the cookie jar, now people are like, 'oh yeah, that's probably been going on for a long time.'"
Fleming added that what makes this nation special, among other things, is the electoral process.
"And when people don't take it seriously and they feel it's not a big deal, or they take it for granted, it just belittles the election process."
The presidential campaigns have until the end of the month to file their petitions with the state's election boards. There is no word on when the criminal investigation of the suspect 2008 petitions will wrap up.