By Staff Writer
Despite allegations to the contrary, District 22 Republican candidate for state representative, Curt Nisly, maintains that his role as the independent contractor responsible for developing the Elkhart County Election Board/Clerk’s website does not create a conflict of interest for him as a political candidate. He denies that the voter information to which he had access during the site development creates a conflict for his candidacy. One of his opponents, Democrat David Kolbe, alleges that Nisly’s technological expertise and unique access to voter data provided him with an advantage in terms of targeting voters, or at least creates that perception among members of the public.
Kolbe registered a complaint with the Indiana Election Commission (bi-partisan, four-person body) on August 18, specifically noting the unfair data access as well as the general propriety and perception questions at issue when a candidate in his business capacity influences a part of the state election process and administration in which he also participates in a non-business role. Initially, Kolbe specifically identified his concern with the fact that the county website contained a link–identifying Nisly’s company C-Tech as site creator–that redirected site visitors to Nisly’s company page, only one click away from his campaign page. That link disappeared only days after Kolbe first mentioned it; however, Kolbe appeared unsatisfied with the reaction and general attitude of the County Clerk, alluding to her actions as potentially making her complicit in Nisly’s alleged illicit targeting of voters using their voter information.
What does all this discussion of conflict of interest and complaint filings mean for the voter anxiously anticipating her opportunity to visit the ballot box? Ultimately, despite the fact that a definitive answer regarding the propriety of Nisly’s activities might seriously influence election results, voters will not get that information until more than a month after casting ballots on November 4th. The Indiana Election Commission scheduled the hearing for December16, meaning its decision on the complaint will not influence the outcome of the District 22 race. The Commission’s decision not to promulgate or enforce any emergency rules or conduct any additional proceedings prior to the election indicates that its ultimate decision would maintain the current status quo.
According to some social media comments (made in response to a newspaper’s request for public feedback on the story), likely voters appear to recognize the potential for impropriety on Curt Nisly’s part but are persuaded that no conflict exists because he was not yet a political candidate in October 2013 when the contract began and because he received final payment for his services before declaring his candidacy in January of this year. Regardless of the timeline and various questions surrounding Nisly’s activities and Kolbe’s allegations, the voter stands to lose the most as a result of this unresolved issue that now casts a pall over District 22’s election for state representative. Perhaps the Indiana Election Commission would argue in its defense that it is simply taking a page from the Supreme Court’s recent election law playbook by evincing a “reluctance to disturb the status quo immediately before an election.” Whether maintenance of the status quo actually benefits the voter appears to be a question for another day.