"It just seems to me a candidate should not have a government contract with an election board,“ said Kolbe, a lawyer from Warsaw.
C-Tech Solutions designed the county website, www.elkhartcountyclerk.com, and Nisly’s role as president and owner of the Elkhart-based firm prompted Kolbe to lodge a complaint last week with the Indiana Election Division. Particularly bothersome to Kolbe were web links in the county page, since removed, to the C-Tech website, www.ctech.bz, where information on Nisly’s candidacy is featured.
Nisly, as web designer, ”could delve into all sorts of voter data,“ Kolbe, from Warsaw, further charged in a letter to the editor Wednesday, Aug. 27, meant for area publications. ”It just looks terribly bad and alarms us.“
Nisly, from Jackson Township south of Goshen, declined comment, pending review of Kolbe’s complaint by Indiana election officials. Pam Galloway, a volunteer campaign staffer, echoed that, but also said ”we’re not worried.“
"We’re just going to wait and see what the Indiana Election Commission says before we give any more details,” Nisly said.
- Scroll down to see Kolbe’s complaint
Nisly is a conservative and strong gun rights advocate who’s touted states’ rights and a distaste for federal government overreach. In the May GOP primary, he handily defeated Rebecca Kubacki, the incumbent rep to District 22, which covers part of Warsaw, northern Kosciusko County and Locke, Union and Jackson townships in southern Elkhart County.
Michael Stinfer of Warsaw, running as an independent, is the third candidate in the District 22 contest. A campaign staffer said he’s waiting to see what comes of the complaint and declined further comment.
C-TECH HIRED BEFORE NISLY LAUNCHES BID
Elkhart County Clerk Wendy Hudson, who oversees Elkhart County elections and serves on the three-person election board, deflected some of Kolbe’s concern. In an e-mail response Wednesday, Aug. 27, to a series of Elkhart Truth queries, she said Kolbe, as a candidate, has access to the same sort of voter information that Nisly does — not via the election board website, though, but the Elkhart County Voter Registration Office.
“This information is NOT available through our website, but is rather information obtained from Voter Registration,” Hudson wrote. “Said information is pulled from the Statewide Voter Registration System, which is not accessible from our website.”
She didn’t address questions related to Kolbe’s concerns about the propriety of a candidate designing an election body’s website. But she noted that C-Tech was tabbed to do the website work before Nisly, who launched his Indiana House bid last January, became a candidate.
“C-Tech met with us in September of 2013 to discuss our current website and to get an idea of what we were wanting from the new website,” Hudson said. “We hired them in October of 2013, and paid them in December, after receiving a mockup of the new website.”
The cost to Elkhart County was $7,550, which came from the election board budget. Leading to selection of C-Tech, Hudson’s office had reached out, looking for web design companies interested in revamping the election board site, but only two responded, including a Michigan firm that recommended working with a local firm.
Hudson confirmed that the election board website had a link to the C-Tech website, via a C-Tech company logo at the bottom of the home page and other pages. But she hadn’t been aware of it. Soon after she learned of it, around 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 13, she demanded that the link be removed and it was, before 8 a.m. the next day, Aug. 14, she said in her e-mail.
The logo remains, a standard feature at the bottom of the various election board website pages, though it no longer links to anything.
In his complaint, Kolbe said the C-Tech link, when live, was “troubling.” Visible at the bottom of the homepage of the C-Tech website, where the link on the election board website led before it was removed on Aug. 14, is a box reading “Curt Nisly for state rep,” which links to his website, www.curtnisly.com. Another campaign-related link on the C-Tech homepage leads to another page that links to Nisly’s campaign Facebook page.
That the C-Tech logo still appears on the election board website bothers Kolbe, even if it no longer links to the C-Tech website. Those surfing the election board page for election information could see the C-Tech logo and do a web search on it, happening upon the Nisly campaign information featured there.
Since C-Tech built the election board website, Kolbe also worries Nisly could somehow track those who visit the site, later targeting them for campaign support. "These conditions constitute unfair advantages for his campaign,“ Kolbe said in the complaint.
Hudson didn’t immediately respond to a query about whether Nisly or C-Tech, as designers, have such capability.
IN INDIANA ELECTION COMMISSION HANDS
In his complaint to election officials, Kolbe alleges “impropriety in the blatant use of a public contract and a public website for purpose of drawing attention to a candidate’s campaign.” He further says Hudson, as Elkhart County clerk, “may be complicit in these unseemly events.”
Finally, he singles out discrepancies related to what firm actually designed the Nisly campaign website, germane, Kolbe argues, in the context of campaign finance reporting. Nisly’s campaign finance report attributes design of the site to HS Enterprises at a cost of $600 but the C-Tech website states that C-Tech designed the site.
Kolbe doesn’t cite any specific violations of Indiana election law. He says if election officials suspect election law may have been violated, they are required to refer to the case to the local prosecutor for review.
Trent Deckard, Democratic co-chairman of the Indiana Election Division, or IED, said Kolbe’s complaint has been forwarded to the Indiana Election Commission, the bipartisan, four-person body tabbed with reviewing such matters. It would be up to Bryce Bennet, a Republican and the commission chairman, to determine if the matter merited formal consideration by the full commission.
Neither Deckard nor Brad King, Republican co-chairman of the IED, know if any additional action is in the works on Kolbe’s complaint.
Kolbe Complaint to Indiana Election Division