INDIANAPOLIS – U.S. Rep. Todd Young expected a fight in the race to become a U.S. senator – but not to just get on the primary election ballot.
The Indiana Democratic Party on Wednesday morning filed a formal challenge alleging Young didn’t submit enough certified voter signatures to qualify for the May 3 Republican primary.
"We believe our candidates need to make sure they get the minimum signatures necessary to run for this office," Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody said. "It’s important we hold our candidates accountable and make sure they are meeting state law."
To qualify for the primary election ballot, a Senate candidate must gather the signatures of at least 500 certified registered voters in each of Indiana’s nine congressional districts.
Zody said that county clerks certified 501 signatures in the 1st District for Young. Democrats then requested the signature sheets and counted them multiple times, coming up with 498 signatures. Six media outlets, including The Journal Gazette, joined Wednesday morning to conduct separate counts of the certified signature sheets from Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties. All of the tallies matched: 355 signatures in Lake, 120 in Porter and 22 in LaPorte.
That brought the total to 497 signatures, three fewer than the required minimum.
The media focused solely on counting those signatures considered certified by county clerks. Many were not certified because voters weren’t registered, for instance, and those can still be challenged by Young.
The Indiana Election Commission, which consists of two Democrats and two Republicans, could consider Young’s possible disqualification at its Feb. 19 meeting.
If Young is removed from the ballot, U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman would be left as the only Republican candidate for the Senate seat after the withdrawal of Eric Holcomb on Monday to become lieutenant governor. Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., will not seek re-election.
Stutzman began tweeting about the Democrats’ challenge late Tuesday, saying "498 is short of 500."
A statement by Stutzman campaign manager Josh Kelley also was posted, saying, "Todd Young’s inability to gather sufficient signatures is a real concern to countless Republicans our team has spoken with today."
Kelley added that Young seems more focused on garnering establishment support in Washington, D.C., and raising money from corporate interests than in meeting with Hoosiers and engaging in a meaningful grass-roots effort in Indiana.
"Either Young is not focused, or he simply fails to connect with voters. Either way Young is not prepared to run a statewide campaign," Kelley said.
Young’s campaign came out hard against the Democrats on what it considered "petty political pageantry."
"Indiana Democrats know they can’t beat Todd Young in an election, so they are making a desperate attempt to keep him off the ballot by disenfranchising the Hoosier voters who put him there," Young said in a statement. "It won’t work."
The GOP nominee will face Democrat Baron Hill in the general election. Young unseated Hill from Congress in the 2010 election in southern Indiana’s 9th District.
Zody said the Democratic Party would have filed the same challenge against Stutzman had his numbers been close.
Such challenges generally have resulted in a tie vote by the Election Commission, and candidates have rarely been removed from a ballot.
In 2012, however, the commission voted 3-1 to remove Jim Wallace from the Republican primary ballot in the gubernatorial race because he was 14 signatures shy of the threshold. He wanted to challenge Mike Pence, who was nominated by the GOP and elected governor that year.