Dead candidates remain on primary ballot

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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The Indiana Court of Appeals examined state statutes to determine which apply when a candidate dies before the primary but wins the election, an issue the court hadn't tackled before.

In Dan Lockard v. Charles Miles and John Mullican, No. 84A04-0708-CV-493, Lockard challenged his loss to Charles Miles in the Terre Haute Democratic primary. Miles died April 18, 2007, nearly three weeks before the May 8 primary, and media in Terre Haute first reported his death April 19. Lockard and Miles were the only two candidates on the ballot for the Democratic Party primary for City Council District 6 seat.

After the election and pursuant to Indiana Code Section 3-13-1-8, the Vigo County Democratic chairman filed a notice of party caucus to fill a candidate vacancy because Miles couldn't run in the main election. At the caucus, John Mullican was chosen over three other candidates - including Lockard - to be the democratic nominee for the seat.

Lockard had filed a verified petition for an election contest, arguing that because Miles died, he didn't meet the residency requirements to run for office.

A special judge appointed to the case denied Lockard's petition, finding the issue wasn't whether Miles met the residency requirements but rather that proper statutory procedure following the death of a candidate before a primary election was followed.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the judge's decision to deny Lockard's petition, citing this is an issue of first impression.

The Court of Appeals rejected Lockard's argument that Miles failed to meet the residency requirements under I.C. 3-8-1-27 so Lockard should have been declared the winner. Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote there are more specific state statutes - instead of the residency requirement statute - that address what happens when a candidate dies as opposed to becoming ineligible for office.

The statute on early candidate vacancies applies to Miles because he died more than 30 days before the general election. This statute states in I.C. 3-13-1-2, "A candidate vacancy that exists on a primary election ballot may not be filled for the primary election." Candidates' names may be removed from the general election ballot but not the primary ballot, wrote Judge Vaidik.

Because Miles' name could not be removed from the ballot, his name properly remained on the ballot. Voters who knew of his death still elected him into office, perhaps a testament that voters did not want Lockard to win, she wrote. Because Miles won, a caucus was triggered under Indiana statute, in which Mullican was elected as the general election democratic candidate.

"Because Lockard was defeated in the primary election and filed a declaration of candidacy for nomination by a caucus, and was defeated, Lockard was not eligible to become a candidate for City County District 6 in the 2007 general election," she wrote.

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