By Ashley Fowler
CARMEL, Indiana (WISH) — A Hamilton County poll worker removed from an early voting location last week is responding to claims that he unlawfully encouraged people not to vote for certain candidates.
Republicans in Hamilton County say the worker, identified by the county’s Democratic Party as James Zheng, was removed from the polling place at Mercy Church road on Thursday because he pressured voters not to support Republican-endorsed candidates for Carmel school board.
“I have been in communication with local election officials to make sure poll workers are reminded that such activity, called electioneering, is illegal,” Mario Massillamany, chair of the Hamilton County Republican Party, said in a statement.
State law forbids electioneering — including campaign apparel, buttons, stickers, signs, and campaign literature — within a polling place and within 50 feet of the entrance.
The Hamilton County Democratic Party responded in a statement Monday accusing county Republicans of “dirty tricks” in an attempt to “sow last-minute doubt into the integrity of our elections.”
“We believe voters deserve honesty and truth,” the party said in a statement Monday. “This is desperation and retaliation politics at its worst.”
Zheng, in a statement provided Monday by Hamilton County Democrats, says he saw people wearing T-shirts of Republican-endorsed candidates just outside the windows of the polling place at Mercy Road Church and reported them to the inspector.
Zheng says that the same inspector later said “one of the poll workers” told voters not to vote for the Republican-endorsed Carmel school board candidate “because they don’t care about diversity,” which Zheng denies.
Zheng’s full statement, in which he says he is willing to testify under oath about what he witnessed and experienced, is below:
I was an early voter poll worker at the Mercy Road Church early voting site on Thursday, November 3, 2022. Mercy Road Church’s voting machines are placed right in front of outside clear glass windows to the north and west. I observed persons just outside the windows with red t-shirts containing the names of Republican-endorsed Carmel school board candidates. I reported this issue to Christine DeKeyser who agreed this was not right and agreed to discuss this issue with the Inspector, Sheila Puckett. The Inspector did not take any action and did not ask these people just outside the clear glass window to move.
At the end of the day, the Inspector indicated there was a problem today: one of the poll workers who was alleged to have told voters not to vote for the Republican-endorsed Carmel school board candidates because they don’t care about diversity and a poll worker cannot tell a voter to vote straight-ticket Democrat. The Inspector did not name me as the person who did that.
I returned home about 7:30 PM. At around 7:40 I received a call from Beth Sheller who told me that the Inspector had made the above allegations against me and that I would not be allowed to work as a poll worker the next two days.
I categorically deny these allegations and would point out that at no time during the early voting on the 3rd did the Inspector call me aside and confront me with these false allegations. I am willing to come forward and testify, under oath, consistent with the above.
The Hamilton County Democratic Party said it would support the filing of a complaint to the county’s election board. County clerk Kathy Greag Williams said Zheng did file such a complaint but later withdrew it. The board is scheduled to discuss the incident during a meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Hamilton County Sheriff Dennis Quakenbush said his detectives also are interviewing anyone with knowledge of the incident. He said his investigation would proceed independently of the board’s.
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