Legal Issues and State Government and Politics and Government & Economic Development and Government and Law

Judge hears arguments in White election challenge

April 6, 2011

Attorneys for Democrats and Republican Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White accused each other's clients of political manipulation during a Wednesday hearing before a judge who ultimately may decide whether White can remain in office.

Democrats say White committed voter fraud by lying about his address on a registration form and was ineligible to run for secretary of state. Their lawsuit in Marion County Circuit Court claims the state recount commission improperly dismissed their challenge to his election in December. White has since been indicted on charges of voter fraud, perjury and other felony counts. He would have to resign if convicted.

Democrats contend state law requires runner-up Vop Osili to take office if Judge Louis Rosenberg rules White was ineligible.

But White's attorney, Jim Bopp, accused Democrats of "gaming the system" by waiting until after the election to challenge White's candidacy. Bopp claimed Democrats knew that if they waited, Osili might take White's place without having to face another GOP candidate, as he might have if they had acted promptly.

Bopp said the timing of the challenge was a way to "defeat the will of the people who overwhelmingly defeated their candidate for office." White won election in November by about 345,000 votes.

Attorneys for Democrats denied the accusation, and said if anyone tried to "game the system," it was White, by lying about his address and then concealing it.

The barbs added flash to an hour-long court hearing that hinged mostly on what Indiana's legal requirements to run for secretary of state say — and what they don't say.

Democrats contend White was ineligible to run for secretary of state because he wasn't legally registered to vote — the only legal requirement. But Bopp and Betsy Isenberg, a deputy attorney general representing the recount commission, said the law doesn't say candidates must be legally registered — just registered.

Bopp argued that legislators had intended voter fraud to be handled as a crime, not a political disqualification. Any official convicted of felony voter fraud would automatically be removed, he said.

Rosenberg questioned whether that interpretation might lead to ludicrous results, such as someone from another state winning the office by falsely registering to vote in Indiana, and said it seemed to imply there were two sets of rules — one for voters and another for candidates.

Democrats contend White voted in last May's Republican primary after moving out of his ex-wife's home in Fishers. White previously has acknowledged the voting error, chalking it up to his busy schedule and new marriage.

Rosenberg asked Democrats' attorney Karen Celestino-Horseman if a candidate still should be declared ineligible if a registration error were just a mistake. She replied that Democrats and prosecutors don't believe that to be true in White's case.

Wednesday's hearing centered mostly on whether the court case should continue and if it does, whether it should be heard by a judge or the recount commission. Rosenberg said he would issue a ruling Thursday afternoon.

White didn't attend the hearing.

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