An elections board ruled Thursday that U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar can't vote at the Indianapolis home he sold in 1977 but can register elsewhere in the county, a partial victory for tea party activists who allege the Republican incumbent has committed voter fraud for decades.
Marion County's Board of Elections voted 2-1 along party lines to disqualify Lugar from voting at the home, but the ruling does not remove Lugar from the May primary ballot. Lugar can fix the problem by registering at another address in Indianapolis, such as the farm he owns.
"I've got a lot of respect for Sen. Lugar, but we've got to follow this law here," said Mark Sullivan, Democratic chairman of the board. The law is clear that Lugar can still run for office; the narrow question of whether he can vote in Indianapolis' 29th precinct was the only question decided today, Sullivan said.
Monica Boyer, co-founder of the tea party umbrella group Hoosiers for Conservative Senate, made a reference to Indiana's unofficial state song following the court's ruling.
"We hope our senator finally gets a residence in the state, and we will welcome him 'Back Home Again in Indiana' when he arrives!" Boyer said.
Lugar spokesman Andy Fisher called it was a partisan ruling by Democrats. He says lawyers are reviewing whether to appeal. Lugar's staff cited a pair of attorney general opinions which supported Lugar's decision to keep voting from his former Indianapolis address.
"Since Senator Lugar took office, he and Mrs. Lugar have scrupulously complied with Indiana law, which preserves the residency of Hoosiers serving their state and country outside of Indiana. The Lugars have also sought and followed the express direction of every legitimate government authority to have addressed the question," Fisher said in a statement.
The Indiana Election Division upheld Lugar's appearance on the Republican primary ballot in the face of a similar challenge from tea party groups last month. The board voted 3-1 that Lugar's living in Virginia while serving the state as senator meant he could still claim his former Indianapolis address to qualify for the ballot.
Questions about Lugar's residency have become a major problem for the veteran senator as he faces his toughest re-election battle since first going to Washington in 1977. The residency issue lingered in Indiana's conservative blogosphere for more than a year before it gained traction a few months ago with help from Greg Wright, a certified fraud examiner and Democrats who saw an opportunity to hammer Lugar.
Lugar's Republican primary opponent, state treasurer Richard Mourdock, quickly jumped on the board's ruling Thursday.
"It's sad that Senator Lugar had to be instructed by the Marion County Election Board that he must maintain an actual home in the state he represents in the U.S. Senate," Mourdock said in a statement. Mourdock previously held a press conference outside Lugar's former home and called for Lugar to establish another residence in Indiana.