Another viewpoint: Indiana’s candidate eligibility rule conflicts with Constitution


Fort Wayne Journal Gazette

John Rust of Jackson County is a sixth-generation egg farmer and chairman of the Seymour-based Rose Acre Farms who’s seeking the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in the May 2024 primary. His race for the office could be over before it starts.

The self-described conservative Republican filed his campaign committee’s statement of organization with the Federal Election Commission July 1. But state GOP officials said earlier this month that Jackson County Republican Party Chairwoman Amanda Lowery won’t approve Rust’s candidacy due to his voting record.

In 2021, state lawmakers changed Indiana’s election law. It now says candidates can only run in a primary election if they voted in the same party’s primary in the previous two election cycles – although the party chair in the would-be candidate’s county of residence can override the rule by issuing a waiver.

Rust voted in the Democratic primary in 2012, the Republican primary in 2016, but skipped the 2020 and 2022 primaries. Lowery says he doesn’t qualify to be a candidate, and she won’t sign a letter of “certification” affirming he is a member of the GOP.

“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.”

Giving county-level party chairs the ultimate power to determine who is a member of the Democratic and Republican parties also appears to conflict with Hoosiers’ First Amendment right to free association.

Twenty-nine ballot challenges were filed in 2022 against 24 candidates – and the majority were based on the two- primaries rule, according to reporting by The Center Square, a nonprofit online media entity based in Chicago. And in January of last year, state Rep. Curt Nisly, R-Milford, attempted to amend the state’s election law to return to the one-primary rule.

He said a person running for a seat in the General Assembly only must have lived in Indiana for two years under state law, but the two-primaries rule means the potential candidate now has to have lived in Indiana for at least four years before running.

“It appears like this wasn’t vetted properly,” Nisly said from the House floor.

But the obvious clash with another state election rule didn’t move lawmakers to legislate a fix.

Rust’s legal challenge was filed in Marion County Superior Court and names Indiana Secretary of State Diego Morales, the Indiana Election Commission and Jackson County GOP Chairwoman Lowery as defendants. Ultimately, he wants the two-primaries rule declared unconstitutional, and for a judge to issue an injunction, allowing his name to appear on the 2024 Republican primary ballot.

Hoosiers deserve and are constitutionally guaranteed the right to free association. The two-primaries election rule offers county-level party chairs the power to determine which would-be office seekers are “true” party members.

No state law should supersede the Constitution.

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