A man fighting to get his name on the 2020 Starke County Republican primary ballot just weeks before the election had his case dismissed by an Indiana Court of Appeals panel on Tuesday.
In early 2020, Thomas DeCola declared his candidacy for three different offices in the Starke County primary election originally scheduled for May 5, including Starke County Treasurer, Railroad Township Republican Precinct Committeeman, and Republican State Convention Delegate-District 17.
Despite his efforts, Starke County Republican Party Chairman Dave Kesvormas filed challenges against DeCola’s candidacy for the offices, alleging DeCola engaged in “gross misconduct” at a political conference and that he “does not meet the qualification and prerequisite set forth in the rules of the Indiana GOP.”
After conducting a hearing on the matter, the Starke County Election Board sustained the challenges and ruled that DeCola would not appear on the primary ballot in the northwest Indiana county in 2020. On the same day DeCola appealed and requested to be reinstated, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb issued an executive order postponing the primary election until June 2 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Noting that some absentee ballots had already been sent to voters, the Starke Circuit Court affirmed the election board’s decision, prompting an appeal from DeCola.
But an appellate panel dismissed the man’s appeal in Thomas DeCola v. Starke County Election Board, 20A-MI-709, pointing out that only three weeks remain before the primary, which “will be conducted largely via absentee ballot because of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Even under optimal circumstances, it is highly unlikely we would order a county election board to start from scratch on absentee ballots three weeks before an election,” Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote for the appellate court. “We certainly will not do so with the pandemic ongoing, with Indiana’s reopening effort still in its early stages, and with a growing number of absentee ballots having already been sent to voters. As the Election Board states, ‘To redo the absentee ballot in this environment would be untenable.’ DeCola makes no argument to the contrary.
“Because we could not grant DeCola the relief he seeks even if we were to agree with him that the Election Board erred by keeping him off the ballot, we dismiss his appeal,” it concluded. “We express no opinion on the merits of the Election Board’s decision.”