Valparaiso attorney makes official his bid for Indiana's Democratic secretary of state nomination

Valparaiso's Jim Harper, right, submits his paperwork to seek the Democratic nomination for Indiana secretary of state Tuesday to John Zody, state party chairman, at the Democratic Party offices in downtown Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS — A Valparaiso attorney filed paperwork Tuesday to officially seek the Democratic nomination for Indiana secretary of state.

Jim Harper already has spent much of this year campaigning for the office, visiting 40 of Indiana's 92 counties and meeting many of the delegates whose support he'll need to win the nomination at the party's June 16 state convention.

So far, Harper is unopposed by any fellow Democrats. If nominated, he'll likely compete in the Nov. 6 general election against Republican Secretary of State Connie Lawson, who is expected to claim her party's nomination at the June 9 GOP state convention, and Libertarian Mark Rutherford, a graduate of Valparaiso University Law School.

Harper said his goals as secretary of state include boosting Indiana's lackluster voter participation rate and ending the system of drawing legislative district boundaries to favor one political party over another, known as gerrymandering.

"We need a secretary of state who is focused on expanding voting rights in the state — making it easier, not harder, for people to vote," Harper said.

In 2014, at the last non-presidential statewide contest, Indiana recorded the lowest general election voter turnout in state history with just 3 in 10 registered Hoosiers casting a ballot.

Harper said he believes Indiana can turn that around by implementing Election Day voter registration, increasing vote-by-mail options, lengthening voting hours beyond 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and establishing more early voting sites.

"First of all, it's important to have somebody in the secretary of state's office who sets the tone that they want to expand Indiana's historically low voter turnout," Harper said.

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"The fact that we don't have people from both sides coming together, and proposals offered to change it, is troubling to me."

Harper acknowledged that it won't be easy for a Democratic secretary of state to enact any changes with what likely will be a General Assembly still in Republican hands next year, and a GOP governor through at least 2020.

Nevertheless, he said, "I think it's important that we have a new perspective and some balance in state government."

Harper also vowed that, if elected, he would serve "as a watchdog on the current leadership" on behalf of Hoosiers.

The most recent secretary of state to hail from Northwest Indiana was Munster native Todd Rokita, a Republican who served from 2002 to 2010.

Records show the last Region Democrat elected secretary of state was in 1948 when Charles Fleming, of Hammond, won what then was a two-year term.

The Times' coverage from primary night in Northwest Indiana

ICYMI: The Times' coverage from primary night in Northwest Indiana

All of The Times' coverage from Tuesday's election night.

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