INDIANAPOLIS – While Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels held off Saturday on appointing a permanent replacement for the state elections chief convicted early that morning of voter fraud, Democrats said they planned to move quickly to wrest control of the politically powerful office from the GOP.
A jury from Hamilton County, just north of Indianapolis, deliberated for 13 hours before convicting Republican Secretary of State Charlie White on six felony charges. Among other things, White was accused of lying about his address on voter registration forms.
Indiana law does not allow felons to hold statewide office, and Daniels quickly appointed White's chief deputy, Jerry Bonnet, as interim secretary of state. But the governor said he was holding off on naming a permanent replacement because a judge could reduce the charge to a misdemeanor, allowing White to regain the office.
Democrats didn't want to wait, however. Chairman Dan Parker told The Associated Press the party will seek to have its 2010 candidate, Vop Osili, who lost to White by about 300,000 votes, certified as secretary of state during the coming week. A civil judge in Marion County ordered the state to declare Osili the winner in December, saying White wasn't an eligible candidate because he had lied about where he lived on a voter registration form.
Parker said White's conviction removed the sole objection to Marion Circuit Judge Louis Rosenberg's ruling ordering the Indiana Recount Commission to certify Osili, the second-place finisher, as the winner. Parker said the conviction proved White had committed voter fraud as Democrats contended. Rosenberg had stayed his order pending appeal.
"Now is the time for the stay to be lifted and for the recount commission to certify Vop Osili as the winner and have him sworn in this week, and all of this can be put behind us," Parker told The AP.
But a spokesman for the state Republican party said the civil lawsuit filed by Democrats and the criminal charges handed down by a grand jury were separate. Pete Seat said Democrats were unfairly trying to change the outcome of the election.
"The Democrats, this is what they do," he said. "They lose elections and then they try to litigate victory."
Under ordinary circumstances, Daniels would appoint another Republican to the office once he received a certified copy of White's sentencing order.
The case is likely to end up in the state Supreme Court, although the justices have not said yet whether they will take up the appeal of Rosenberg's order.
White also is expected to appeal his criminal conviction.
Jurors in White's criminal trial deliberated overnight before reaching a verdict about 2 a.m. Saturday.
"I'm disappointed for my family and the people who supported me," White said outside the courtroom after the verdict was announced.
Prosecutors said White used his ex-wife's address instead of a condo he had with his fiancée because he didn't want to give up his $1,000-per-month Fishers Town Council salary after moving out of that district.
White claimed the charges ignored a complicated personal life in which he was trying to raise his 10-year-old son, plan his second marriage and campaign for the statewide office he won that November. He said he stayed at his ex-wife's house when he wasn't on the road campaigning and did not live in the condo until after he remarried.
The Indiana Recount Commission unanimously upheld White's candidacy in June after Democrats challenged its legitimacy, but Democrats appealed the decision to Rosenberg, who ordered it reversed. A Hamilton County grand jury had indicted White in March following an investigation by two special prosecutors, one Republican and one Democrat.
Amid all the turmoil, work at the secretary of state's office continued.
Office spokesman A.J. Feeney-Ruiz said Bonnet would report to work as secretary of state Monday and "it'll be business as usual."