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Democrats win Secretary of State ruling

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Based on a judge's ruling that Charlie White was in eligible to run for Secretary of State, his challenger Vop Osili should assume the office. The ruling will be appealed. - COURTESY OF VOP OSILI
  • Courtesy of Vop Osili
  • Based on a judge's ruling that Charlie White was in eligible to run for Secretary of State, his challenger Vop Osili should assume the office. The ruling will be appealed.

By Lesley Weidenbener

A Marion Circuit Court judge ruled Wednesday that Secretary of State Charlie White, a Republican, was not eligible to be a candidate in last year's election, and therefore his Democratic opponent, Vop Osili should be awarded the office.

Judge Louis Rosenberg said that White was not legally registered to vote at the time he filed his candidacy and therefore was ineligible to be on the ballot.

"The fact that Mr. White knowingly registered in the wrong precinct is sufficient to render him ineligible for the office of secretary of state," the ruling said. "Whether or not he believed that his registration complied with the law is not relevant."

Rosenberg'sruling — which several officials called unprecedented — overturns a decision by the Indiana Recount Commission and sent the case back to that group for action. But it's not clear how soon — or even if — the ruling will be enforced.

Secretary of State Charlie White - COURTESY OF THE STATE OF INDIANA

"I fully expect Charlie White to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court," said Indiana Democratic Chairman Dan Parker. "He needs to do the right thing and step aside and let Vop take office and restore some dignity to the office."

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller will appeal the decision on behalf of the recount commission, his office said Thursday.

"One obligation of our office is to represent state government boards such as the Indiana Recount Commission in lawsuits and when a board's unanimous administrative decision is overturned by a court, the order should be reviewed by a higher court," said the attorney general's spokesman, Bryan Corbin. "We will seek a stay of the court's ruling and are in communication with our client the recount commission to discuss the process of an appeal."

But Indianapolis attorney Tom Wheeler, a Republican who chaired the recount commission when it considered the White case, said he's not sure he even has the authority to convene the group to try to implement the judge's order.

The commission is not a standing group and its three members are appointed by the secretary of state and the chairmen of the state Republican and Democratic parties only when it's needed. That means the commission disbanded after issuing a ruling in White's case.

"Right now there is no recount commission," Wheeler said. "There is no chair of the recount commission."

Wheeler said he is asking the attorney general's office for an opinion about whether he is now the recount commission chairman and whether he can call a meeting.

"Right now, we're waiting," he said. "Am I in? Am I out? If I'm out, does the Republican Party chair reappoint a chairman? I have no idea when a meeting's going to take place because we have to resolve that preliminary issue."

The holiday also complicates the situation. The state is officially closed through Monday and the recount commission must give 48 hours notice of any meetings.

The Marion County ruling and the resulting questions are the latest twist in a complex political and legal battle that has been brewing since last year, when Democrats first challenged White's eligibility. Democrats accused White of failing to live in the home that he listed as his residence for voting.

After a hearing in which White explained that he was bouncing from residence to residence during the period — even occasionally sleeping in his car — the recount commission ruled unanimously then that he was eligible to run. Democrats appealed to the Marion Circuit Court.

Meanwhile, White is facing felony voter fraud charges and Republican leaders — including Gov. Mitch Daniels — have urged him to step aside during the legal battle.

"As a result of his vote fraud, Charlie White was never eligible to be a candidate for this office, and he's done nothing but embarrass Hoosiers since wrongfully assuming the position," Parker said.

But Indiana Republican Chairman Eric Holcomb said the judge is simply trying to overturn an election.

"Therefore, I respectively call on the Indiana Supreme Court to stay Judge Rosenberg's decision, take this case directly, and rule as expeditiously as possible," Holcomb said. "This has gone on long enough."

Despite the legal issues, White defeated Osili at the polls by about 345,000 votes. Osili recently won a seat on the Indianapolis City-County Council.

Neither White nor anyone from his campaign planned to comment on the ruling, Feeney-Ruiz said.

Osili declined through Parker to comment on the decision.

Lesley Weidenbener is an editor at TheStatehouseFile.com, an Indiana news website powered by students from the Franklin College Pulliam School of Journalism.

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