It's most definitely turning out to be a "White Christmas" for Democrats in the Hoosier State this week!
Some remarkable news late today. Finding he was not eligible to be a candidate on the ballot in the November 2010 election, a Marion County Circuit judge has ordered Indiana's Republican Sec. of State Charlie White removed from office and replaced by his Democratic challenger Vop Isili, the second highest vote getter in that election.
The order comes as part of a civil suit brought by the state Democratic Party which has long charged, both before and ever since the election, that White was not eligible to be a candidate on the ballot.
Judge Louis Rosenberg's ruling today overturns a previous determination by the Republican-majority Indiana Recount Commission, which had initially dismissed the Dems contest, but then took it up again after being ordered to do so by the court. The Recount Commission --- on which White himself is a member, though he recused himself from this case --- had found in a unanimous 3-0 decision that White was eligible to serve. Today's decision overturns that Commission's ruling and is likely to be challenged at a higher court.
Separately, White still faces seven criminal felony charges, including three of them for voter fraud, related to the fact that he did not live at the address where he was registered to vote in the 2010 election. As he was not a properly registered Indiana voter, he was not eligible to be a candidate on the ballot, Rosenberg has ruled. Moreover, at the time of his election, White was a member of the Fishers Town Council --- a town in which he no longer lived since separating from his wife and moving out of her house, where he remained registered to vote, several years earlier. Democrats charge he retained his registration at the house so that he could continue to collect his salary as a Council Member.
Since divorcing his wife White had remarried and purchased a condominium in a different town, but claimed the reason he stayed registered at his former wife's house was because he had hoped to move back some day. The Indiana Recount Commission accepted that explanation. The Marion County Circuit judge, apparently, did not.
The stunning turn of events, along with additional bad news that White received earlier this week in his separate criminal case, where he is facing seven felony charges, all serves to highlight no small amount of irony in the Hoosier State, where the first polling place Photo ID restriction law to pass U.S. Supreme Court muster, under the disingenuous claim of fighting "voter fraud", has been used as a model for similar laws across the country ever since. The ruling, if it is not overturned on appeal, could also turn out to have very far reaching consequences on all Republican officials statewide...
Earlier this week, in the criminal case, White also received bad news. according to the Indiana Star, "A Hamilton County judge Monday denied a motion by White to dismiss his felony charges, which were filed against him earlier this year. His criminal trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 30. Felons are ineligible to serve as Secretary of State." Merry Christmas, Mr. White.
According to Reuters, "Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, representing the Recount Commission, will seek a stay of Rosenberg's ruling [today] and is reviewing a possible appeal."
"Charlie White is the secretary of state and will continue to do the work of secretary of state as he has done since taking office," commission spokesman A.J. Feeney Ruiz is quoted by Reuters as saying.
Lots of irony here. Not just that White, a Republican, and the state's chief election officer is facing actual voter fraud charges, but also that it's all occurring in Indiana, where the nation's first polling place Photo ID restriction law was approved by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008. The approval of the Indiana law, with Republicans claiming that it was needed to prevent "voter fraud," has since been used as the model for similar laws passed by Republicans in nearly a dozen states since the GOP took over many state legislatures in 2010, the same election in which White himself was elected. That, despite the fact that none of those states, including Indiana, has managed to demonstrate a need for such a law, or a history of the type of "voter fraud", polling place impersonation, that would be prevented by such laws. In the meantime, study after study has shown that hundreds of thousands of disproportionately Democratic leaning voters are likely to be unconstitutionally disenfranchised entirely by such unnecessary restrictions.
Add to all of that, Indiana's polling place Photo ID restriction didn't even keep White himself from committing voter fraud as he is accused. And now, the Republican Secretary of State of Indiana finds himself hoisted on all of those very same petards.
UPDATE 12/23/11: "AndySonSon" at DKos [hat-tip BRAD BLOG commenter "Curlew"] points out the importance of the order of the resolution of the two different cases in which White is a defendent.
As the civil case may be resolving first --- where White is being ordered removed from office, having been found to have been ineligible to be elected in the first place --- he would be replaced by the second highest vote-getter in the election, Democrat Vop Osili. But if the criminal case resolves first, and if White is found guilt of one or more felonies there, he'd be removed from office, since felons may not serve as Sec. of State, and his replacement would then be named by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels.
In the latter event, the state would most likely retain a Republican SoS. In the former, if Judge Rosenberg's order stands up to an appeal, the state would end up with a Dem SoS.
We've discussed those points before, and the fact that, for the reasons mentioned, among others, Gov. Daniels has long ago called for White to step down and he even tried unsuccessfullly to have state law changed so that he could remove him and appoint his replacement.
But "AndySonSon" also notes some very interesting Indiana statutes, and how White's removal from office, via the civil case, with a Dem replacement, could have much farther reaching implications than previously discussed, including the fact that it could turn the Hoosier State Republican Party, quite literally, into a third, non-"major" party in the state, as far as ballot design and election code requirements are written out there. Check out his interesting thoughts here.
The BRAD BLOG's previous coverage of the Charlie White case:
• 3/4/11: "Indiana's New Republican Sec. of State Charged With Three Counts of Felony Voter Fraud"
• 4/26/11: "Indiana GOP Threatened With 'Contempt' Amid Voter Fraud Charges Against Sec. of State Charlie White"
• 4/29/11: "Indiana's GOP Governor Will NOT Get to Appoint a Replacement for GOP SoS Charged With Voter Fraud"
• 6/19/11: "Indiana SoS Seeking 'Use Immunity' in Bid to Undermine His Own Prosecution for Voter Fraud"