Board upholds 2 of 3 candidate challenges

Current county clerk to appear on ballot in coroner race as independent despite GOP affiliation

After losing her bid for re-election as county clerk in this spring’s primary election, Kathy Smith will appear on the ballot this fall as an independent in the race for coroner following a lengthy review of a challenge against her candidacy.

Smith’s was one of three challenges the Brown County Election Board voted on at their July 19 and Aug. 9 meetings.

Two other challenges against Bruce Gould running for a seat on the Nashville Town Council and Kimberly Brock running for District 2 county commissioner were upheld by the board. Smith also serves on the election board as clerk.

Smith running as an independent for coroner was challenged twice by Republicans Blake Wolpert and Larry Gardner. Both challenges state Smith’s affiliation with the Republican Party prevents her from running as an independent.

“This is about the integrity of the election,” Wolpert said.

Wolpert further argued that Smith is still considered a Republican by the state. Republican Party Chair Mark Bowman testified on July 19 that Smith is still affiliated with the party, but is not in good standing.

“The last ballot is proof enough. She ran as a Republican,” Bowman said.

During the July 19 hearing, Smith argued that she could decide to be an independent anytime she wanted.

“You’re not locked into staying with a party. I could walk out tomorrow and decide I want to be a different party,” Smith said.

She continued she has received no benefits from the party since being elected as the Republican clerk in 2018 including financial contributions and attending events such as the annual Lincoln Day Dinner.

In the primary election, Smith was also one of 19 Republicans who ran in the state delegate race. She said she ran as a candidate to the state convention to support another county clerk trying to run secretary of state.

Election board President Mark Williams, the Republican representative on the board, said Smith appearing on the ballot as an independent in a different race could confuse voters who may presume she is a Republican candidate. He noted that when Smith filled out paperwork to run for re-election as clerk earlier this year she had to write her party affiliation, which was Republican.

“We have a duty to ensure the best we can there is no confusion on the ballot,” he said.

Board member Kevin Fleming, the Democratic representative on the board, consulted with the state election division who stated that the only requirement to be an independent candidate is for someone to say they are an independent and their voting history or past party affiliations are not factors.

“It makes sense that one’s history would not be a factor otherwise you could never change party affiliation,” Fleming said.

The board then voted to continue Smith’s challenge hearing to their meeting on Aug. 9 to give members time to gather more information and guidance from the state.

At the Aug. 9 meeting, Smith appointed resident Sherrie Mitchell as her proxy for the hearing about her challenge, giving Mitchell an opportunity to vote on the challenge in Smith’s place.

“I think she is very open minded. She has ability to make those decisions,” Smith said.

Cindy Rose Wolpert attended the August meeting in her husband Blake’s place who was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict. She objected to Mitchell serving as Smith’s proxy for the hearing, saying that Mitchell was not open minded and did not like Republicans or conservatives.

Williams said the state code allows for each member to appoint a proxy and the only requirement is the proxy be a registered voter who is qualified to vote in the county, which Mitchell is.

“The chair will expect Ms. Mitchell to act with the same courtesy to other members of the board as well as members of the community as is expected by every member of the board,” Williams said.

Smith then sat in the audience during the hearing about her challenge and Mitchell sat in her spot at the front of the Salmon Room in the County Office Building.

At the August meeting, Fleming said the election board does not have “authority to rule on someone’s status as party affiliation” and that there was no “lawful basis” for the hearing. He said he looked in state laws and found different scenarios of challenges the board could hear, but that a candidate’s declared party status was not one.

Cindy Wolpert argued the scenario is not in state law because the state legislature has not ruled on a situation where a candidate runs for an office on one party ticket in the primary election, is defeated and then runs for a different office with a different party in the fall election. The state’s “sore loser” law would prohibit Smith from running for clerk with a different party this fall.

She further argued that Smith’s paperwork to run as coroner has incorrect information and there is no evidence she has changed or denounced parties.

“Some voters will get the ballot and say ‘I am not voting for a Republican. There’s no Democrat for coroner. I will vote for the independent.’ They are voting for a Republican,” Cindy Wolpert said.

“You are responsible for ballot integrity and for it to be accurate.”

Bowman added that Smith declared herself to be a Republican on her campaign finance report form she filed when she ran for clerk and that the designation lasts until December of this year.

“A person can change party affiliation at any time, but as a candidate things are different. There are laws and forms that have to be proper. She did not follow proper protocol,” Bowman said.

Smith said the committee she created on her campaign finance report for her clerk re-election campaign has not been disbanded and she has not amended her form yet.

Williams later argued that there is an issue with Smith filing a second form to create a second committee for her coroner campaign without disbanding the first one in her race for clerk. But Fleming said a challenge was not filed against Smith on that basis, so the election board cannot rule on that issue.

Smith said the challenges were a “witch hunt” and that one of the other challenged candidates — Brock — was also originally elected as a Republican on the Van Buren Township Advisory Board, but resigned to run as an independent candidate for commissioner and was not challenged.

Williams then motioned to disqualify Smith as an independent candidate for coroner, but the motion did not receive a second.

“I don’t see in statute we’re granted any authority to make this decision. If you declare you are an independent, you are an independent,” Fleming said.

“I also have to consider there were several people who filed as an independent, but they were not challenged. That includes people who were Republican officeholders and people who voted in past primaries as Republicans.”

Fleming then motioned to dismiss the challenge, receiving a second from Mitchell. The motion passed 2-1 with Williams voting against. Smith will appear on the ballot in the race for coroner alongside Republican candidate Michael Moore this fall.

Other challenges

A challenge against Gould as a candidate for the town council was filed by Evan Knox and states he could not run in that race because he lived outside of town limits on Hickory Knob Road.

According to state law, a candidate has to be living within a district or town limits at the time they file. There was no requirement that a candidate live at a certain address for so many days before filing to run for an office such as town council, Fleming said.

”You have to live in a precinct 30 days before an election to vote. But there is no requirement that I can find as to requiring a duration of time of living in a town before you run for town council,” Williams added.

At the July 19 meeting, Gould said he recently moved into one of his tourist rentals in Nashville. Knox was unable to attend the July meeting, so Democratic Party Chairman Rick Bond addressed the board and the challenge on her behalf. Bond also presented the board with Gould’s homestead property tax deduction, which lists his home on Hickory Knob Road.

Gould said he moved into an apartment he owns in town in early June and that he has not had time to update his homestead property tax deduction, but he updated his voter registration with his new address. Gould and his wife Pam own the Cornerstone Inn along with other rental units and buildings in town.

Williams said the homestead exemption is called “homestead for good reason.” He said that standards set in Indiana Code for residency is where someone’s immediate family lives unless the home is a temporary location. During the hearing, Gould said his wife still lives at the Hickory Knob Road home.

Fleming agreed with Williams and the election board then unanimously approved upholding the challenge against Gould.

Brock was challenged by Smith for not living in the county commissioner District 2 and for not having enough signatures on her petition to run as an independent. A person must collect 142 signatures to run as an independent for a local office and Brock reportedly submitted 139 signatures from voters in the county that were accepted.

During the hearing, Smith said that Brock submitted her signatures right before the deadline and that the clerk’s office did not have a chance to go through them to make sure there were enough there.

“We encourage everyone to bring them in, have us look at them and to make sure to get extras,” Smith said.

Brock said that candidates should be given an explanation as to why signatures were not accepted.

“When we’re led to believe it is legible and they are eligible to sign then find out they were not eligible to sign. I would like to know why,” Brock said.

Smith filed her challenge against Brock on July 6 and she said Brock had not visited her office or reached out to her to find out why some signatures were not accepted ahead of the July 19 meeting.

Fleming motioned to uphold the challenge based on the insufficient number of signatures on her petition. It was approved 2-0 with Smith abstaining.

The last day to file a challenge against a candidate running for local office is Aug. 26 at noon.

The deadline for challenges against candidates for the Brown County Schools Board of Trustees is Sept. 2 at noon. Anyone interested in running for one of the three seats on the school board still have time to file. The deadline to turn in a petition with 13 signatures is Aug. 26 at noon. Call the clerk’s office at 812-988-5510 for more information.

A look at how the ballot is shaping up

Anyone interested in running for a seat on the Brown County School Board of Trustees has until Aug. 26 to file. Three district school board seats will be elected this November in the general election. The school board districts will be the same as the county commissioner districts. Currently, Carol Bowden represents district 1. Steve Miller Jr. represents district 3 and Vicki Harden represents district 2.

The following candidates have filed to run in the 2022 Brown County general election for local offices as of Aug. 18:

Brown County Prosecutor

(D) No candidate

(R) Ted Adams

Brown County Clerk

(D) No candidate

(I) Laura A. Wert

(R) Pearletta Banks

Brown County Auditor

(D) No candidate

(R) Julia Reeves

Brown County Sheriff

(D) No candidate

(R) Brad Stogsdill

Brown County Coroner

(D) No candidate

(I) Kathy Grimes Smith

(R) Michael R. Moore

Brown County Assessor

(D) No candidate

(R) Mari H. Miller

Brown County Commissioner Dist. 2

(D) Stephanie Porter Kritzer

(I) Jeff Harden

(R) Ronald A. Sanders

Brown County Council Dist. 1

(D) No candidate

(R) Gary Huett

Brown County Council Dist. 2

(D) No candidate

(R) Darren Byrd

Brown County Council Dist. 3

(D) No candidate

(R) Joel Kirby

Brown County Council Dist. 4

(D) Marcia Grooms Taylor

(R) Jim D. Kemp

Hamblen Township Trustee

(D) No candidate

(R) Phil Stephens

Hamblen Township Board Member (Choose three)

(D) No candidate

(R) Tina McCormack

(R) Freida Milnes

(R) Robert L. Rossman

Jackson Township Trustee

(D) No candidate

(R) Sandra K. Higgins

Jackson Township Board Member (Choose three)

(D) No candidate

(R) Larry L. Gardner

(R) James Kakavecos Jr.

(R) Sandra D. Pool

Van Buren Township Trustee

(D) No candidate

(R) Ashley D. Lucas

Van Buren Township Board Member (Choose three)

(D) No candidate

(R) Vicki Payne

(R) Ben Phillips

(R) Sally Sanders

Washington Township Trustee

(D) No candidate

(R) Brandon Edens Magner

Washington Township Board Member (Choose three)

(D) Paul D. Hardin

(D) Melissa B. Rittenhouse

(R) Kimberly Brock

(R) Jim A. Rispoli

(R) Mary Ann Soll

Nashville Town Council at-large (Choose three)

(I) Nancy K. Crocker

(I) Anna E. Hofstetter

(I) Melissa K. Parker

(I) David Rudd

(I) Andi D. Wilson

Brown County Board of School Trustees Dist. 1 (Nonpartisan)

Kevin D. Patrick

Brown County Board of School Trustees Dist. 2 (Nonpartisan)

Jenise C. Bohbrink

Vicki J. Harden

Brown County Board of School Trustees Dist. 3 (Nonpartisan)

Mark T. Smith