Rust files lawsuit to gain ballot access


UPDATED at 5:20 p.m.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate John Rust filed a lawsuit Monday in Marion County to allow him to appear on the ballot for the May 7, 2024, primary election, asserting that current Indiana law blocking him from appearing there is unconstitutional.

In August, the Seymour agribusinessman officially announced his candidacy for Indiana’s Senate seat up for grabs in 2024. That seat is presently held by Jasper Republican Mike Braun, who plans to run for governor next year.

Recent amendments made by the state legislature made Rust and a majority of Hoosiers ineligible to run for office in Indiana due to their voting record, he said in a news release about the lawsuit.

The lawsuit names Indiana Secretary of State Diego Morales, the Indiana Election Commission and Jackson County Republican Party Chairwoman Amanda Lowery as defendants.

Lowery told The Tribune on Tuesday afternoon that as much as she would love to discuss the situation, she was unable to comment on pending legal matters.

“I look forward to explaining my commitment to the following the laws of the state of Indiana and protecting the sanctity of our electoral process when able,” she said.

The only recourse under current law is to have the chairman or chairwoman of a county political party sign an official document granting the candidate access to the ballot.

According to the lawsuit filed, Rust has donated more than $10,000 to Republican candidates according to the Federal Election Commission website.

Rust, who is a farmer and president of the board of Rose Acre Farms, also voted in the Republican primary in 2016 but did not vote in 2020 as that election was moved from May to June because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the time of the 2020 Republican primary, state law only required that a candidate vote in one Republican primary to have ballot access with that party. Even without voting in 2020, Rust’s 2016 vote made him eligible to run for office with the GOP, according to the lawsuit.

The law, however, was amended in 2022 to require a potential candidate’s two most recent primary elections to reflect their claimed party affiliation.

If not, then the chairman of the county political party would have to certify the candidate as a member of that political party and grant them access to the ballot.

According to the lawsuit, because Rust does not have the required voting record for the first option, he met with Lowery on July 19 to request she provide written certification for membership in the Republican Party.

Rust contends in the lawsuit that during that meeting, Lowery expressed concerns about Rust having previously voted in Democratic primaries. Rust said he explained those votes were for people he knew personally through church or for those who were pro-agriculture. Rust also told Lowery that he had never contributed to a Democratic candidate financially.

Lowery said she would not certify Rust because of his voting record, a position she reported to The Tribune. She also said she would not sign off on any candidate who did not vote in the two primaries pursuant to the first option in the statue.

Without certification from Lowery, Rust will not be able to get his name placed on the ballot for either party.

According to Pew Research, 79% of Hoosier adults identify as a Republican or Democrat, but only 24% of registered Hoosiers voted in the 2020 primaries. As such, under the 2022 amendment, approximately 81% of Hoosiers, including Rust, are presumptively ineligible to run for office unless their party chair certifies them, the lawsuit states.

In the news release, Rust’s attorney, Michelle Harter, wrote most Hoosiers do not know about this statute and that they are ineligible to run for office.

“They do not know that candidate who reflects their values are denied candidacy or deterred from even trying to run for office because of it,” Harter said. “This time, the courts cannot claim the case is moot. We look forward to a decision on the merits, one that is consistent with the federal and state constitutions. Hoosier voters deserve, and are constitutionally guaranteed, the right to freely associate and vote effectively. The statute denies candidates and voters these fundamental and cherished rights.”

In February 2022, eight candidates were removed from the ballot pursuant to the statute. Two of those candidates brought suits and sought a decision on the constitutionality of the law, but the appellate court declined to address the merits of their cases because the May 2022 election had passed by the time the cases had made it to the appellate court.

Rust said he filed the lawsuit eight months prior to the primary election so he could obtain meaningful judicial relief, secure ballot access and be able to cast his vote effectively.

At the time of the 2020 primary, Rust said he had no way of knowing that the statute would be amended to prelude him from running for office based on his voting record.

“It’s clear to me that this law is in place to protect the power and control that political parties have over elected offices,” Rust said in a news release. “It prioritizes the political elite over Indiana voters and is against the spirit of the 17th Amendment of the United States Constitution, which specifically grants the power to choose United States senators by the people and took that power away from state legislatures. I think you deserve a choice and robust debate. I decided to run to shake up the political establishment, and fighting them on this unconstitutional law is one battle in that fight.”

Rust incorporates these allegations violate a series a counts, some involving constitutional rights. He is requesting the state law be declared unconstitutional under Indiana and federal constitutions, enter a preliminary injunction, enjoining defendants from taking any action that would prevent Rust from accessing the 2024 Republican ballot, and award any other proper relief.

Claims made in filing a lawsuit represent only one side of the case and may be contested in later court action.

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