The Republican-controlled state Senate has approved a measure that would allow Gov. Mitch Daniels to appoint a new secretary of state if the current office holder, a Republican facing criminal charges, is found to have been ineligible to run — legislation Democrats have branded a blatant power grab.
Charlie White, a Republican who won office in November, is charged with seven felony counts, including voter fraud. The Indiana Recount Commission is considering a Democratic-led challenge to White's eligibility to hold the office.
Under current state law, the runner-up, Democrat Vop Osili, would take office if the commission were to rule that White was ineligible. But some Republican lawmakers want to give Daniels, a fellow Republican, the power to choose replacements for several government posts, including secretary of state, should the office holder be found to be ineligible. The Senate voted 33-17 in favor of the legislation on Thursday, sending it to the House for consideration.
Supporters of the bill say an elected official should determine who fills the seat, and that it shouldn't hinge on the decision by the non-elected recount commission.
But opponents say the legislation is an attempt by Republicans to keep the post in their party's hands.
"Politics aside, this is just not good law," said Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis.
The allegation at the core of the eligibility challenge and criminal case against White is the same: that he committed vote fraud and was ineligible to run for secretary of state because he used his ex-wife's address as his own on a voter registration form. White has previously acknowledged the voting error, chalking it up to his busy schedule and new marriage.
A spokeswoman for Daniels said the governor did not push for the legislation and had no comment on it. House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said Wednesday that he hasn't looked closely at the bill yet but said the appearance that Republicans are changing the rules in the middle of the game was a concern.
The votes cast for secretary of state in Indiana are used to determine ballot access for parties. The bill also clarifies that Republicans would keep their party status, saying a secretary of state's ineligibility wouldn't affect the votes for purposes of determining ballot access and other issues.