That brings us to St. Joseph County here in Indiana, where a trial is under way for the election officials alleged to have submitted petitions with fraudulent signatures in order to get Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on the Indiana Democratic primary ballot in 2008. How momentous might that fraud have been?
Under state law, presidential candidates must qualify for the primary ballot with 500 signatures from each of the state’s nine congressional districts. In the 2nd District, wherein lie South Bend and St. Joseph County, Clinton qualified with 704 signatures and Obama had 534. Prosecutors say 13 Clinton petition pages were apparently forged, meaning up to 130 possibly fake signatures. Even if all 130 had been disqualified, she still would have met the 500-signature threshold. In Obama’s case, nine pages were apparently forged, or up to 90 fake signatures. He easily could have failed to reach 500.
And if Obama had not been on the Indiana ballot, then what? Clinton would have won the state overwhelmingly instead of squeaking by as she did, picking up most or even all of the delegates Obama got here. Who knows what effect that would have had on the momentum of both candidates and how subsequent primaries in other states might have been affected? It is perhaps folly to suggest we might today be talking about the second term of President Clinton or even of President John McCain, but it’s easy to imagine Obama taking office in his first term with less of a perceived mandate than he ended up with.
This case also puts a welcome spotlight on something critics of Indiana politics have long said: This state has some of the toughest ballot-access rules in the nation. Those rules need to be rethought so it’s less challenging for candidates to run here.
But the rules are what they are. Whatever the threshold is, we must be as sure as we can that it has been met honestly by all candidates. We already have to put up with enough deceit and dishonesty from politicians once they get into office.