The Jackson County Election Board plans to investigate two complaints that named three candidates for Jackson County sheriff alleging campaign violations.
The complaints were filed Thursday by Mike Cox of Medora and former resident Mike Moore, who now lives in Idaho.
The two suggest Republican candidates Rick Meyer and Charlie Murphy and Democratic candidate Jeff Walters have violated the law by appearing in campaign advertisements, photographs and social media posts while in uniform. All three work for the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department.
The investigation is set to begin following Tuesday’s primary election, as election board members voted to send the complaints to the candidates, who will have two weeks to respond.
The statute may seem clear, but it provides what is referred to as a safe harbor for candidates that appear in campaign material in uniform, said Dale Simmons, who serves as the Republican general co-counsel at the Indiana Election Commission.
The Indiana Election Commission oversees the state’s elections and election law compliance.
Simmons said candidates only break the law if they campaign while on duty.
“If you’re in a photograph, it’s perfectly fine. There is no foul about it,” he said. “There is an exception in that statue that says it’s OK.”
He said the use of cars also is permitted because the use of a photo of a car does not depreciate the vehicle.
Simmons said anyone with concerns should report them to law enforcement rather than the election board.
“The county election board can’t bring criminal charges,” he said, adding people with concerns should contact local law enforcement to see if the prosecutor would take the case. “It’s hard for a board to sort some of these things out.”
Moore’s complaint only named Murphy. He wrote in his complaint that his motivation is simple “integrity and fairness for all candidates involved in this process. The citizens of Jackson County deserve this.”
Moore said he noticed the signs during a recent visit to Jackson County.
“When I see something, I have to say something,” he said.
In his complaint to the board, Cox said he thought the use of uniforms in campaign material was “shameless self-promotion” and called the campaign signs a “disgrace.”
Meyer said he looked into campaigning laws prior to running and determined he was not breaking the law.
“I have taken my sheriff candidacy very seriously,” he said. “I am running for the office responsible for upholding the law, not breaking it. The statue is clear, and I have done nothing wrong.”
Murphy said the three candidates did not break laws by appearing in uniform.
“I don’t feel that myself or any of the candidates mentioned have done anything wrong,” he said. “We’ll wait to see what the investigation comes up with, but I think we’re good.”
Walters said he also looked up laws before he decided to run for office and said he wouldn’t break laws while running for office.
“I try to do everything by the book,” he said. “I have too much respect for the office and have worked there too long to break a law.”
Jackson County Clerk Amanda Lowery, secretary of the election board, said 14 days seemed like an adequate amount of time for a response. Lowery is required by state law to serve as secretary of the board.
She said the board will investigate the allegations in the complaints but would not be able to before the election.
“The election has to be our top priority,” she said, adding she had not been through an investigation as an election board member before. “We won’t take these complaints lightly.”
Lowery said the election board is overseeing early voting through the week and on weekends and providing seven poll worker training sessions this week.
If any violations are found, the board will turn them over to law enforcement.