INDIANAPOLIS – A voting scandal has invigorated Indianas secretary of state race.
Republican Charlie White, 41, was considered a heavy favorite until it was revealed that he had voted in a precinct in which he no longer lived and was serving in a town council post after he moved out of the district.
Now 47-year-old Democrat Vop Osili is hoping the flap will be a game-changer in the contest.
I was unbelievably shocked, Osili said of Whites missteps. It has opened up the race.
Libertarian Mike Wherry, 42, is also running, but he is focusing less on winning and more on receiving at least 2 percent of the vote – the level needed to ensure a spot on the ballot for the party the next four years.
The position is open because Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita was prohibited by term limits from running again.
The office has several divisions – including business registration and a securities arm – but is largely known for administering elections across the state. The annual salary is $68,772.
All three men seeking the post are from central Indiana. But thats where the similarities end.
White, an attorney and Hamilton County Republican Party chairman, is the only one who has held elected office. He had been on Fishers Town Council since 2001 but resigned in September after it was revealed that he had moved out of the district he was elected to serve months earlier.
White also admits voting in the May primary in a former precinct under his ex-wifes address, something Democrats contend is a felony. They say White was trying to avoid putting his new address on record because that would have made him ineligible for his council seat.
Two special prosecutors are looking into the matter, and Friday, Rokita forwarded the results of an investigation by his office to them. Rokita would not make it public.
White said he was caught up in a state campaign and didnt realize he no longer lived in his district and forgot to register at his new address.
I admitted my mistake and tried to take immediate and corrective action, he said. Voters are concerned about jobs and economy, not this. We deserve a campaign based upon issues that affect peoples daily lives.
Unfortunately for White, the secretary of state has more to do with election laws than the economy. And Osili is hitting on that theme in television ads about the issue, which a poll in central Indiana shows is hurting White.
He perpetrated a fraud on the public, Osili said.
Osili runs an architectural firm. His legal name is Samuel, but he said he was given the nickname Vop – standing for voice of the people – by his parents because he was a talkative toddler.
He said he started off as a conservative Bible-toting evangelical. But he realized the Republican Party did not reflect his beliefs on social issues. He became a registered Democrat in the mid-1990s.
Conversely, White comes from a long line of southern Indiana Democrats and said he would have done the same if not for Ronald Reagan.
When you are used to Jimmy Carter and a guy like Ronald Reagan comes along; I didnt even know what party he was. I just liked him as a boy and I was proud to be an American.
Osili decided in 2001 he wanted to run for secretary of state at some point, and Rokitas departure seemed to open the door at the right time.
When campaigning, he talks a lot about the business services division of the office. He says he would like to funnel information on loans, grants and state regulations to small businesses when they register with the agency.
The secretary of states office could really have an impact on business at inception, Osili said.
White has a similar idea, saying the state needs to set up a one-stop shop where new businesses can register in one place with multiple agencies, such as the Department of Workforce Development and Department of Labor.
We have to have an all-hands-on-deck attitude to help businesses flourish in the state, he said.
Wherry, though, focuses on the election aspects of the office. He said the most pressing issue facing this office is election reform, noting Indiana ranks among the five most restrictive states for ballot access. He said he would lobby to make it easier for other parties to be heard and to expand the Indiana Election Commission to provide representation for Libertarians.
He also said he supports the states law that requires voters to show a photo ID to cast a ballot and would push for vote centers to be used widely in the state.
Vote centers eliminate precinct lines and let voters cast ballots at centers set up in convenient locations in a community.
Wherry does not support expanding mail-in absentee balloting beyond its current uses for those out of the county on Election Day or unable to physically make it to the polls.
Osili said he would uphold the voter ID law but would also use the resources of the office to help some Hoosiers acquire documentation that is needed to get an ID and vote.
We should have a voter advocacy board so that if anyone is disenfranchised for any reason, they have a place to go to address the concern, he said.
Osili also favors letting counties decide whether to have vote centers and letting more Hoosiers vote by absentee mail-in-ballot.
White also said the states voter ID law should remain in place, noting that Hoosiers need a photo ID to do other things as well, such as buy alcohol and cold medicine.
He said vote centers would help counties because it is becoming harder to find enough poll workers, and the consolidation can save money in larger counties.
White also said if the state is going to allow no-excuse, in-person early voting around the state, there is no reason Hoosiers shouldnt be able to vote by no-excuse, mail-in absentee ballot as well.
We just need to make it easier for people to vote, he said.