Refusing to go against the will of Indiana voters, the state’s highest court has held that Charlie White was eligible to run for secretary of state and assume that office after being elected in 2010.
The justices on Thursday upheld their practice of not “judicially disenfranchising” voters, reversing the decision by Marion Circuit Judge Lou Rosenberg which had held that Charlie White was not eligible to run as a candidate for secretary of state as a result of being improperly registered to vote.
“It is likely that the average voter was aware that there were concerns about White‘s voter registration history at the time of the election,” the opinion says, “but we will not, on the basis of the present petition, judicially disenfranchise voters who went to the polls aware of what were at that moment only allegations.”
While the ruling in Charlie White, et. al. v. Indiana Democratic Party, through its Chairman , Daniel J. Parker, No. 49S00-1202-MI-73 impacts statutory interpretation for candidates and elected office holders, the ruling is essentially moot as it applies to the former secretary of state in this case because he has already been removed from office on different grounds.
The Indiana Democratic Party challenged White’s eligibility as a candidate after the November 2010 general election, saying that he was registered to vote at his ex-wife’s home where he didn’t reside and wasn’t properly registered to be a candidate for that election. The Indiana Recount Commission decided last summer White was eligible and could hold the office. But on judicial review, Rosenberg ruled in December 2011 that White wasn’t eligible and the second-highest vote getter should take the office.
Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard wrote the 20-page opinion, finding the state Democratic Party’s post-election challenge was untimely and they should have challenged the voter registration matter before the election.
The Democratic Party didn’t file a pre-election challenge as they could have within 74 days of the general election pursuant to Indiana Code 3-8-8-1 to -8, and the court found the party should have been more diligent to comply with that timeline in filing an election challenge.
The justices relied on Burke v. Bennett, 907 N.E.2d 529 (Ind. 2009) in balancing the line between the disqualification provision in post-election contests and impeding the pre-election application of state law in challenging a person’s qualifications to be a candidate. The specific statutory requirements at issue in this case have present tense language and refer to those who are currently candidates or remain candidates for office, the justices determined.
“Our conclusion is that the Code places a burden on political campaigns to investigate and vet their opposition before the pre-election time limitations expire, but that is better than the alternative: that a challenger might ignore a known (or knowable) disqualification challenge before the election, wait to see who won at the polls, and then seek to set aside the results of the democratic process,” Shepard wrote. “Such a result is inconsistent with free elections and respect for voters’ expressed preferences.”
Justice Brent Dickson concurred in result, but wrote separately to say that he agreed with the election contest being dismissed because he sees the Legislature’s attempt to impose additional eligibility qualifications on candidates as unconstitutional and not a basis to contest someone’s eligibility for office.
This appeal does not involve any aspect of a separate criminal case against White, which led to his being convicted in February of six felonies including voter fraud and his receiving a one-year sentence of home detention and being removed from office. The governor appointed Jerry Bonnet as the interim replacement, and following the court’s ruling, Daniels said he will move forward with choosing a permanent successor.