By Jessica Wray
- Charlie White
Newly elected Secretary of State Charlie White took the oath of office today amidst controversy.
White faces accusations of voter fraud after he voted in a precinct outside of his residential area in the May primaries, which in Indiana is a Class D felony. As secretary of state, White is the lead elections official in Indiana.
Critics charge that White voted outside of his precinct in the primaries to disguise the fact that he had moved out of the Fishers Town Council district that he represented. He voted in the precinct based on his ex-wife's address, rather than his current residence.
White is still under investigation in Hamilton County where a Republican and Democratic special prosecutor researching the charges.
White was officially sworn in to office in Hamilton County with other officials on Dec. 28. The media was not contacted prior to the ceremony.
Democrats also objected to then secretary of state Todd Rokita's vote on the challenge, citing his previous support for White. Rokita, a Republican, is now serving in Congress. If he is found guilty of a felony, White will be removed from office under state law.
Former Adams County prosecutor Dan Sigler, one of two special prosecutors investigating White told The Evansville Courier & Press that they will present his case to a grand jury in late February or early March in Hamilton County. The grand jury will decide what, if any, charges White will face.
In his speech after taking the oath of office, White did not mention the accusations, but instead emphasized his appreciation for his overwhelming support and the voters that put him into office.
"As a gesture of good faith, until our economy comes back, as all the other statewide officials have done, I will forgo the automatic pay raise," White said.
White held a press conference after the ceremony, the first since he was nominated in the May primary, and commented on the voter fraud accusations.
"I think that this was an issue that was often reported, and I think that in fact some of our polling had 58 percent of Hoosiers had heard about the issue," White said. "I think they weighed in with their votes, and again, I got almost a million votes, won 88 counties, and what I need to do is focus on the job that I was elected to do. And again, I will say this one more time, I did not commit voter fraud."
Gov. Mitch Daniels, who was in attendance, said that he has thought about what he would do if White were removed from office, but would not say what that is. He said he does not deal with hypothetical situations.
"I thought that it was a nice ceremony, and let's just hope that the other questions are resolved swiftly, and everybody will be glad when they are," Daniels said.
Treasurer of State Richard Mourdock and the Auditor of State Tim Berry also took their oaths of office. Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard administered the oath of office with former Indiana Republican Party Chairman Murray Clark introducing each official.
Mourdock spoke about the oath's meaning and the importance of serving to keep government limited for freedom.
Berry emphasized the new programs to make government spending and budgets more transparent to the taxpayers, and cutting the budget back to 1999 levels.
"We're celebrating our own epiphany, our own journey across this state, Richard, Charles and I, reaching out and listening to voters, reaching out and speaking to voters," Berry said.
Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman made the keynote remarks at the end of the ceremony.
"Today, we begin another fresh start," Skillman said.
-- Samm Quinn and Suzannah Couch contributed to this story.
The above is one of an ongoing series of daily reports from the Indiana Statehouse by students at the Franklin College Pulliam School of Journalism.