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Saturday, February 20, 2016 3:41 am

Young remains on ballot for now

Niki Kelly | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – U.S. Rep. Todd Young survived a bitter battle Friday to keep him off the Republican ballot for U.S. senator – but the fight might not be over.

The Indiana Election Commission deadlocked 2-2 on whether Young had properly gathered 500 signatures in the 1st Congressional District, with Democrats voting against him and Republicans supporting him.

A tie maintains his candidacy – unless the Indiana Democratic Party or U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman’s campaign files a lawsuit.

Stutzman is running against Young for the seat created by the retirement of U.S. Sen. Dan Coats. 

Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody said no decision has been made, but a legal challenge is under consideration.

The hearing took almost five hours and involved heated exchanges and sometimes even cursing.

At one point, Democratic member Anthony Long said, "your party passed the damn laws, now you have to live with them."

Jim Bopp, a nationally known Republican election law attorney representing Stutzman, said the Young campaign made a farce out of the process by arguing that the commission should add signatures to its total that weren’t initially certified by county clerks.

"Obviously there’s a big problem with the Young campaign. It’s their gross negligence that they want you to fix," he said.

Attorney Clay Patton, on behalf of the Democrats, said Young "wants to be your U.S. senator, but he doesn’t want to take responsibility for anything."

During the hearing, Young’s attorney, David Brooks, found fault with clerical errors by clerks and even argued the petition form is flawed.

And he fired back that Stutzman doesn’t want to face Young in the primary, telling the commission Stutzman prefers a "coronation over a campaign."

Stutzman and the Democrats contend that Young’s campaign handed in only 497 or 498 certified signatures – depending on whether the front or back of the petition form was used. Either way it was not enough.

Hoosiers who sign these petitions must be registered voters in the congressional district. Clerks can kick names out for various reasons, such as being duplicates or not being registered. The rest they certify and count.

Brooks said a statewide voter registration report said Young had 501 certified signatures and that should be enough. But opposing lawyers argued that’s not an official count.

That led Brooks to focus his argument on whether several signatures that were not certified by the clerks in LaPorte, Porter and Lake counties should be accepted. One was an alleged duplicate name; one was placed in the wrong congressional district; one was allegedly on a Lake County page that was missing and one had no notation on why it wasn’t counted.

Democrats on the panel did not accept the additional signatures but Republicans did.

Republican commission Chairman Bryce Bennett said voter disenfranchisement is a serious matter and he wanted to err on the side of keeping someone on the ballot.

Republican member Zachary Klutz of Fort Wayne said he was unwilling to disqualify a signature due to clerical error. But he added that he was only comfortable saying Young had 500 signatures. He didn’t agree to giving him the one from a missing page.

A second challenge by Democrats then tried to toss out several names that had been certified in support of Young. 

One specifically rose to a higher level when they showed a woman whose signature was certified signed the petition as a registered voter a week before she actually registered to vote.

The signatures on both documents were also glaringly different.

Even Books had to admit error but argued the commission can’t disenfranchise voters the right to a contested race using "hypertechnical errors."

Klutz and Bennett, the Republicans, then began quietly conferring with each other as Klutz had stated openly he thought the number was right at 500. So if the woman who wasn’t registered was kicked off it would drop below.

But the Young campaign submitted dozens of other names that should be counted for various reasons, from married legal names to confusion over official residence of college students. 

At that point Democratic member Long expressed anger that the meeting was going so long and made a motion to once again remove Young from the ballot. It tied 2-2.

There was no immediate reaction from the Stutzman campaign except a tweet from his wife, Christy, that asked if it’s legal for the election commission to certify signatures after the deadline. It was hashtagged: AboveLaw.

nkelly@jg.net