INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana Supreme Court delivered a victory to
Republicans on Thursday, ruling that Democrats waited too long to challenge
the 2010 candidacy of the state’s former Republican elections chief and
clearing the way for Gov. Mitch Daniels to choose a replacement.
In a unanimous decision, the court overturned a Marion County judge’s
decision ordering the state recount commission to certify the runner-up,
Democrat Vop Osili, as Indiana’s secretary of state. Republican Charlie
White, who won the race, was removed from office after he was convicted of
felony voter fraud and perjury charges last month.
The ruling clears the way for Daniels to appoint White’s replacement to the
politically powerful office. Daniels, in a statement, said he would act
promptly to fill the post. He named White’s chief deputy, Jerry Bonnet,
interim secretary of state after White’s February conviction.
“The Supreme Court’s resolution of this case brings finality to a difficult
matter with many troublesome aspects. This ends a sad, sad chapter and I
look forward to working with the new officeholder in restoring the public’s
confidence in the Office of Secretary of State,” Indiana Attorney General
Greg Zoeller said in a statement. Zoeller’s office represented the recount
commission in the case.
White was convicted of listing his ex-wife’s address instead of his own when
he registered to vote in the May 2010 primary. Democrats said he did this
because he didn’t want to give up his Fishers Town Council salary, which he
would have had to do because he had moved out of the district he was elected
to represent. White was sentenced Feb. 23 to one year of home detention.
In a separate challenge before the recount commission and later a civil
court, Democrats argued that White’s candidacy was invalid because he was
improperly registered to vote. They said his recent conviction on six felony
charges proved their point.
But the justices said White was properly registered by the time the
challenge was filed after the election, and that the two cases had nothing
to do with each other. The issue of White’s voter registration address was
raised before the election by a private citizen, and there was no reason the
Democrats couldn’t also have raised the issue before voters went to the
polls, Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard wrote in the 14-page opinion.
“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.
The court said voters likely were aware of the concerns over White’s voter
registration at the time of the election, and it would not set aside their
will. White won by about 300,000 votes.
“This court has always been wary of overturning the will of the voters who
have freely and willingly cast their ballots,” the ruling said. Three of the
justices were appointed by Republican governors, and two by Democrats.
State Chairman Dan Parker said Democrats were disappointed by the ruling and
still believed White’s candidacy was illegitimate.
“It’s unfortunate that instead of having someone in that office who stood
before Indiana voters for an election, Hoosiers are going to have a
Secretary of State appointed by Gov. Mitch Daniels,” Parker said in a
“We hope that person respects the integrity of the office and the elections
process and will work with both parties to make sure that every Hoosier with
the ability to vote can do so in a fair and open manner,” he added.
Osili told The Associated Press that he hoped that whoever was appointed
secretary of state would work with officials to make it easier for voters to
comply with Indiana’s voter ID law.
“The most important thing is that whoever is appointed to fill that slot has
his or her highest priority to make sure that anyone who is legally able to
vote in Indiana is able to vote,” Osili said. “Nothing should be easier than
being able to vote.”
Indiana Republican Party State Chairman Eric Holcomb expressed relief in a
statement and praised the court’s decision.
“I commend the Indiana Supreme Court for its well thought out and considered
decision in this matter. It is a far cry from the judicial activism used to
try and overturn an election at the behest of Chairman Dan Parker and the
Indiana Democratic Party,” Holcomb said.