Updated March 15, 3 p.m. ET
Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN) has just been thrown a curveball in his re-election race: The Marion County (Indianapolis) Election Board has ruled in a party-line 2-1 decision that both he and his wife are no longer eligible to vote where he is currently registered.
The Indianapolis Star reports that the decision, with two Democrats voting to disqualify and the Republican voting against, was in fact made at the recommendation of the board’s staff attorney. The attorney’s recommendation found that while Lugar is not disqualified from running for office (that matter was already addressed by the state Election Board, who dismissed a challenge to Lugar’s eligibility — more on that below), he has nevertheless abandoned his residency at the home he sold way back in 1977 but continued to vote from.
Unless Lugar were to successfully appeal this decision, then, he would have to establish a new registration at another physical address. He faces a challenge in the Republican primary on May 8 from state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who among other things has attempted to make make political hay of this issue.
Lugar’s opponents this year have attacked him over the fact that he lives mainly in northern Virginia, and has not owned a home in Indiana itself since 1977, the year after he was first elected to the Senate. His campaign has said that he is not wealthy enough to maintain two homes, and also wished to have his family with him in Washington.
At the same time, Lugar has continued to be registered to vote at the same address, of the home he moved out of in 1977.
In late February, the state Election Commission voted 4-0 to reject a challenge to his legal residency, which was lodged by a small group of conservative activists, thus upholding his place on the ballot.
Lugar’s campaign has cited the Indiana constitution, and the opinions of current and past state attorneys general, to show that Lugar did not legally lose his residency when he left for Washington to serve the state as its senator decades ago. Indeed, way back when he moved to the Washington area, Lugar obtained such an opinion from the then-state attorney general, in order to be assured of the legality right away.
However, they have also struggled with the appropriate public messaging — such as comparing his legal status to that of military service.
In response to the latest news, Lugar campaign spokesman Andy Fisher released this statement blasting the decision and its legal reasoning:
“Today, the Democrat-controlled Marion County Election Board ignored the Indiana Constitution, the express direction given to Senator Lugar by the Marion County Voter Registration Board, and the opinions of three Indiana Attorneys General - the officials ultimately responsible for enforcing state election law - to reach a conclusion that Senator and Mrs. Lugar have incorrectly voted in their precinct since he became a U.S. Senator.
“Since Senator Lugar took office, he and Mrs. Lugar have scrupulously complied with Indiana law, which preserves the residency of Hoosiers serving their state and country outside of Indiana. The Lugars have also sought and followed the express direction of every legitimate government authority to have addressed the question,” Lugar spokesman Andy Fisher said.
“It is an outrage that Indiana Democrats and Treasurer Mourdock’s camp are happy to waste taxpayer money in tying up the courts. They apparently don’t see any path to victory at the ballot box, so they keep maneuvering in hopes they can avoid competing head-on with Senator Lugar.
“Unfortunately, the Democrats on the County Election Board and Treasurer Mourdock’s supporters are attempting to tarnish Senator Lugar and his family, and deprive them their fundamental right to vote. This personal attack comes on the heels of the Indiana Election Commission’s bipartisan, unanimous decision denying a similar challenge to Senator Lugar’s ability to stand for re-election.
“Hoosiers everywhere have made it clear that they won’t stand for these continued, calculated efforts to unfairly tarnish an Indiana statesman and his family. They agree with Senator Lugar that we should be discussing the real issues in this election: job growth, balancing the budget, national security and building a better future for Indiana and our country.”
Citing Indiana code and Constitution, the Indiana Attorney General opinion last month concluded that:
“If a person has established residency for voting purposes in an Indiana precinct prior to his or her service in Congress, that residence remains the Congressperson’s residence as long as he or she remains on the business of the state or the United States. A continual physical presence is not required in order to maintain his or her residency status.”
This reinforced past opinions sought by Lugar from previous Indiana Attorneys General.
Late Update: The Mourdock campaign has issued this statement, standing by the contention that Lugar is not only ineligible to vote — but he is not even legally eligible to run at all:
“It’s sad that Senator Lugar had to be instructed by the Marion County Election Board that he must maintain an actual home in the state he represents in the US Senate.
“The fact that Senator Lugar hired a team of high-priced lawyers to fight for his right to use a legal technicality so that he doesn’t have to live among Hoosiers just proves our point about how out of touch he is.
“Indiana Republicans already know that Senator Lugar is out of touch with them on issues like gun control, the national debt, earmarks, liberal judges and amnesty for illegal immigrants.
“Our position on this issue has always been clear: regardless of how he is registered to vote, the U.S. Constitution requires Senator Lugar to be an “inhabitant” of the state to be elected. Currently, he is not,” stated Mourdock campaign spokesman Christopher Conner.