Same goals, very different approaches. What you need to know about Indiana’s Secretary of State candidates
This month, senior investigative reporter Bob Segall interviewed all three candidates appearing on the Secretary of State ballot about their ideas and priorities.
Indiana will soon elect a new Secretary of State to oversee voter registration and statewide elections.
Because of false claims and disinformation involving recent elections, the spotlight on the Secretary of State’s office has never been brighter.
That’s why 13News wants you to get to know the candidates.
Democrat Destiny Wells, Republican Diego Morales and Libertarian Jeff Mauer all say they want to protect the integrity of Indiana elections and improve voter turnout. But they each plan to implement very different strategies to accomplish those goals.
This month, senior investigative reporter Bob Segall interviewed all three candidates appearing on the Secretary of State ballot. They discussed their ideas and priorities for the Secretary of State’s office, while also addressing the controversies and serious allegations that have surfaced during the race. No questions or topics were off the table.
Below you will find an in-depth profile of the candidates. And because those broadcast profiles were edited for clarity and time considerations, 13News is also providing you access to the extended interviews with all three of the candidates so you can see their more detailed responses to each of Bob’s questions.
Each candidate was asked the same 10 questions about their background, their priorities, and their policy positions involving elections and the functions of the Secretary of State’s office. 13News also asked each candidate a series of separate questions specific to their policies and previous statements, with time to address the multiple controversies that could impact voters’ decisions at the polls.
Two additional candidates have also filed paperwork to qualify as write-in candidates. Because their names will not appear on the statewide ballot, 13News did not conduct 1-on-1 interviews with the write-in candidates or include them in televised profiles. But because votes for these candidates will be counted in the state’s final vote tally, 13News did invite them to submit their responses to the same general questions posed to each of the balloted candidates. Their responses can also be seen below.
Check back for more detailed analysis and updates about the Secretary of State’s race through election day.
Republican Diego Morales:
"Do you know how much English I knew when I arrived in America? Zero, nothing, nada. So I started from scratch," Diego Morales said during a 1-on-1 interview with 13News.
The Republican candidate said he is an immigrant from Guatemala who has become a very proud Hoosier. If elected Secretary of State, he would become the first Latino elected to statewide office in Indiana.
"I want to continue to give back. And I believe by giving back – running for Secretary of State – it is very important because, to me, I'm living the American dream. And protecting the American dream, I believe, starts at the ballot box," Morales said.
He told 13News he wants to actively register more minority and young voters, protect Indiana elections from interference from the federal government, and tighten election security.
"My motto has always been ‘Easy to vote, harder to cheat,’" Morales said.
Studies show incidents of cheating during elections are very rare, but Morales said he doesn't want to take chances. If elected Secretary of State, he’d like to expand voter ID requirements to include those who mail in absentee ballots – which would be a significant change in Indiana.
"So if you go to the to the city building to vote, when you arrive there you show your ID. So why not, if you want to vote, you know, via mail in, so you can perhaps attach a copy of your photo ID? So that way I know that is Bob," Morales told 13News senior investigative reporter Bob Segall.
Morales said requiring voters who mail their ballots to include a copy of their photo ID with their ballot would be “more safe and secure."
And he said more secure elections would mean less controversy – avoiding skepticism that some voters still feel after the 2020 election of President Joe Biden.
"He is the legitimate president," Morales said during the interview.
But for much of the past two years, Morales has been claiming the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump. Following dozens of audits, challenges and lawsuit nationwide, those claims have been proven false.
Last year Morales tweeted a quote that had been attributed to him during an interview with a conservative podcast: "If we count every legal vote, President Trump won this election," he wrote.
And this year, prior to winning his party’s nomination for Secretary of State, the Republican candidate wrote an op-ed in which he called the 2020 election flawed, questionable and a scam.
13News asked Morales why he now seems to backtracking from the same words he used to help win his party's nomination.
"Well, what I said, as I said, I gave you the example of the Pennsylvania secretary of state," Morales said. "In the 2020 election, the Pennsylvania Secretary of State changed election laws 30 days before the presidential election. Who does that?"
13News asked what change was made.
"That people were able to register to vote, people are able to vote easily," Morales replied.
13News checked that claim, and what Morales described in Pennsylvania did not actually happen.
His campaign later told 13News Morales was referring instead to guidance issued by the Pennsylvania department of state -- seven weeks before the election – instructing county clerks to not disqualify ballots based solely on signature concerns. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that guidance was consistent with existing state law, and there is no evidence the guidance impacted the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
Morales' incorrect statements about the election are not the only comments he's been asked to explain.
There are questions about his decision earlier this year to use almost $44,000 in campaign funds to buy a new SUV. 13News asked if he feels that is appropriate.
"Nothing wrong with that,” Morales said. “This is actually, you know, a modest car, good use of my generous donors.”
He said the SUV is for campaign travel, and he plans to sell it and return the money to his campaign after the election.
There have also been questions about whether Morales has exaggerated his military record.
"What I want my fellow Hoosiers to know is that I served honorably," Morales said, pointing out that he has provided documentation from the Indiana National Guard yielding proof of his honorable discharge.
He has also fielded questions about why he was fired for poor performance while working at the Secretary of State's office – an office he now wants to lead.
"Anybody who knows me, they know me that I work hard," Morales said, downplaying his termination and several poor performance reports as office politics.
Morales believes all the claims against him are politically motivated and said he hopes voters will instead focus on why he's running for statewide office in the first place.
"I'm grateful for this great country and this great state, and I want to give back. I want to be a productive citizen to give back, and I want to make sure I'm gonna fight for every single Hoosier here in Indiana," Morales said.
Democrat Destiny Scott Wells:
"The Secretary of State's Office used to be a sleepy race, but it's not been like that after 2020 because elections have been put on the table," said Destiny Wells.
Wells said she's on the ballot to address what she sees as big problems with Indiana elections.
"We are one of the last in the nation in registered voter turnout," Wells said. "There's also issues with our campaign finance laws. They are the weakest in the nation, and those could be improved and they need an advocate to do that."
The Democratic candidate tells 13News increasing voter turnout would be one of her top priorities.
"I think it requires talking to the public, letting them know some of these voter suppressive laws that we have on the books. Indiana is one of just a handful of states that has a 29-day voter registration deadline. So people aren't even thinking about voting until a couple of weeks before the election, and they find out they're not even registered," Wells said. "Other states have same day or automatic day voter registration. Another one, easy one, polls close at 6 p.m. in Indiana. Only Indiana and Kentucky close their polls that early. So these are very easy and palatable changes, pragmatic changes that I can advocate with the legislature."
To be clear, Wells believes it's currently too difficult for some Hoosiers to vote, and she wants to change that. It's a viewpoint not shared by her competitors.
Another difference: the other candidates on the ballot have stated either that “voter fraud happens all the time” (Maurer) or that the 2020 election was a “scam” (Morales). Wells correctly points out those positions have been proven false.
"And the last thing we need is a Secretary of State who is going to further perpetuate that and mislead Hoosiers about how safe and secure their elections are," Wells said. "You know, there has been this kind of 'Big Lie' perpetuated that says your vote is not being counted. But I think for Hoosiers, it's that they feel that their vote doesn't count, it doesn't matter. And we want to start to fix that. And we want to start to restore a more health democracy in Indiana."
She says to do that, Indiana does not need to conduct an independent statewide audit after every election, a safeguard that both of her opponents support.
"It is very expensive. We simply do not have the resources to do it. And we definitely don't have the resources to do it in a timely manner. There are other ways to challenge an election if you feel it is unfair," Wells said. "You may ask for a recount. You can file a contest of which a recount is part of, but to have a 92-county audit is just a superfluous measure."
Polling shows there are still many undecided voters when it comes to the Secretary of State race. Wells likes her chances with those voters.
"I think that this is a time in history where we have become very hyper-partisan, but people are tired. And they don't want people playing with what their rights are, and that is that they have the right to vote," Wells said. "Again, it should be off the table. And so Hoosiers are looking for a professional to run the office that they know will safeguard elections and their right to vote, and that's me."
Libertarian Jeff Maurer:
"At the end of the day, if we can count our votes the way we count our cash, I believe that we're going to finally have the elections that we deserve," Jeff Maurer told 13News during an in-depth interview.
The Libertarian Secretary of State candidate said his top priority is to give Hoosiers confidence in the election process, and to do that, he said voters should leave the ballot box with proof that their vote counts.
"And so the way to implement that is, we each need a receipt for our vote so that we can track it just like a package. I'm advocating for a 3-point triangulated receipt,” Maurer explained. “So first is the digital vote that gets tabulated immediately for election night results. The second is a paper backup or the original paper ballot. That way the government or the clerk has a copy of your vote on paper as a backup. And the third is a printed receipt that you keep. As I understand it, I'm the only candidate on your ballot who wants you to walk away with a printed piece of paper so that you can go home, go online and track your vote just like a package."
13News asked how much that would cost and who would foot the bill?
"We don't have exact numbers on that yet,” Maurer said. “But we have to look at the cost from a couple different perspectives. Number one, in a state budget of $16 billion, there's always money to spend when we want to buy the things we want to buy. Number two, we have a state surplus of $6 billion. Number three, this is part of a good risk-limiting and risk-management plan."
Maurer also wants to conduct a statewide election audit in all 92 counties before election results are certified. Democratic opponent Destiny Wells opposes the plan, calling it too expensive and unnecessary. But Maurer and his Republican challenger Diego Morales say it is necessary.
"It's a good idea because it's a baseline. We need that to understand what's working and what's not. And from there, we can again take credit for the parts of our system that are working, and work quickly to fix the parts that are not," Maurer said.
Are elections working? 13News asked each candidate, including Mauer, about the last big election and if they believe President Joe Biden was fairly and legally elected.
"Yes, he was fairly elected. But yes, we have a problem because we can't prove that," Maurer said.
13News asked Maurer how he can be definitive that the 2020 election was a fair while also stating it cannot be proven.
"Yes, I accepted results. Yes, we have to move forward. But yes, we have to do better. Yes, we have to form a more perfect union. Yes, we have to have audits and receipts to make sure that we never have the concerns of 2020 again," Maurer said.
It is important to point out, the results of the 2020 election were legally certified in all 50 states, and claims of widespread election fraud were investigated and determined to be false. But you wouldn't necessary know that if you listened to Mauer at the recent Secretary of State debate.
"Voter fraud happens all the time," Maurer claimed during the live televised event.
13News asked Maurer about that comment -- and for any specific examples of fraud. The candidate shared concerns he's heard from others, but admitted he has no proof to back up his statement.
"I myself do not have that evidence in my possession," Maurer said.
Even without that evidence, Maurer said voters want increased trust in their elections.
"And we can solve that. We can solve that with good common sense solutions of audits and receipts,” said Mauer. “And with my background in finance, I know how to bring those solutions and implement them.”
There are two write-in candidates for Secretary of State race this November. Andrew Straw is affiliated with the party he created, the Disability Party of Indiana, and David Wetterer represents the Green Party.
Straw is an attorney who is focused on disability, employee, and civil rights issues. He says he is running in order to increase ballot access and to try to reach the 2% of votes needed to have a Disability Party candidate printed on the ballot in the future. Straw says he believes businesses should be taxed to pay for a fund that would provide relief for consumers who are victims of a licensed company that engages in fraud. You can read more about Straw and the topics important to him on his website.
Wetterer is a graduate of Indiana State University and says it is running to increase ballot access for Green Party candidates. Wetterer also would like for minor party and unaffiliated voters to be allowed to work the polls. Wetterer says it plans to advocate for an increase in pay for state employees to ensure they make what it calls “livable wages.” You can read more about Wetterer and the topics important to it on it's website.
In Indiana, the names of write-in candidates do not appear on the ballot. Votes for write-in candidates in the general election are counted only if that candidate has filed a declaration of intent to be a write-in candidate. Both Straw and Wetterer have filed that declaration.
In order for a minor party or independent candidate to have their name on the ballot, the candidate must have a petition signed with the number of signatures equal to 2% of the vote cast in the last election for secretary of state in the election district that the candidate wants to represent. For November 2022, that means a person would need 44,935 signatures to have their name on the ballot as a candidate for secretary of state.