Monroe County Democratic Party chair David Henry has confirmed to The B Square that he has not filed a petition under Indiana election code objecting to the outcome of the May 2 primary.
The primary made David Wolfe Bender the party’s nominee for the Bloomington District 6 city council seat in the Nov. 7 municipal election.
The deadline for a party chair to file a petition objecting to the result was noon on Friday (May 19).
The deadline came 23 hours after the election board convened a hearing on the question of Bender’s residency in the district.
The election board voted unanimously to refer to the county prosecutor potential felony charges involving a potential misrepresentation of Bender’s residency on his candidate filing forms. [.pdf of document forwarded to prosecutor and AG]
But in a separate action, the three-member board voted 2-1 to refer to the state attorney general the matter of possible action involving Bender’s eligibility as a candidate.
Thursday’s election board action factored into Henry’s decision, as party chair, not to file a petition. By making its referral to the attorney general, Henry said that the election board had asked the AG to do the same thing that he, as party chair, would have asked a court to do.
Henry said that on either path the process took, a potential outcome would be for Bender to be removed from the ballot. And in that case, the party would be confronted with a vacancy for District 6 on the Nov. 7 ballot.
The possibility that Henry could act as party chair to file a petition was something that election board member John Fernandez mentioned in dissenting on the vote to refer the question of Bender’s eligibility to the attorney general.
In declining to support the referral to the AG, Fernandez said, “I don’t think it’s up to the board to challenge the credentials [of Bender to stay on the general election ballot].” Fernandez continued, “At this stage of the game, that’s kind of up to the Monroe County Democratic Party chair, whether they want to take some action, so I will leave it to them, and just keep this simple.”
Henry also indicated that even after the Nov. 7 election there’s a possibility for action. He put it like this: “But the bottom line is that we have other doors available to us to consider, and [filing a petition by the Friday noon deadline] was not the only door today to go through.”
Henry said that to make the decision on not filing, he had consulted with the other party officers—vice chair (Shruti Rana), secretary (Ashley Pirani) and treasurer (Karen Wrenbeck). But Henry took full responsibility for the decision.
Fernandez, the former mayor of Bloomington, was serving on the election board as Henry’s proxy—just for the purpose of the hearing. As chair of the Monroe County Democratic Party, Henry had appointed himself to the election board on an interim basis, after Shruti Rana resigned in order to run for Bloomington city council District 5—a race that she won.
Up to now, the focus has been mostly on the legal question of Bender’s residency. For this year’s primary election, a candidate had to be a registered voter, by Feb. 3, which in turn requires residency, in the district they sought to represent.
Bender based his residency claim on a subleasing arrangement he attempted to make, which was signed on Dec. 9, 2022, with occupancy starting on May 1, 2023.
Leaving aside the legal analysis, the person who eventually winds up representing District 6 on Bloomington’s city council will also depend on political choices.
If Bender’s name appears on the Nov. 7 ballot, then voters will almost certainly have a choice between Bender and at least one other candidate—whose candidacy is not affiliated with any party.
On April 27, Sydney Zulich filed the paperwork to establish a campaign committee as an independent candidate for Bloomington city council District 6.
Like Bender, Zulich is an Indiana University student. The district is located in the center of Bloomington, and includes a chunk of the university campus. Even the non-campus parts of the district are mostly populated by college students.
Independent candidates have to collect signatures to qualify for the ballot. The required number is 2 percent of the total ballots that were cast by voters in the district for the secretary of state’s race in the 2022 general election. For Zulich, that means she has to collect just 9 signatures—a reflection of the light turnout for District 6.
Zulich has collected and verified at least 9 signatures, but has not yet filed her declaration of candidacy. Reached by email on Friday, Zulich wrote: “At this point in time, my team and I are closely monitoring current events to properly assess a good time to officially declare.”
Zulich was visible at polling places on May 2 supporting Isak Asare’s campaign for an at-large city council seat—he was the top vote getter in that race.
Whether local Democrats will be able to publicly support Zulich as an independent, in a race that features someone on the ballot with a “D” next to their name, is a matter of interpreting Democratic Party rules.
Henry told The B Square, “As I understand it, there’s not a lot of precedent around the state for this scenario where an independent presents themselves and party members want to support that person over the nominee.”
Henry told The B Square that a decision about how to handle that scenario would be determined by the whole group of precinct chairs, not just the county chair.
Precinct chairs could potentially have an additional role to play. In case Bender’s name is removed from the ballot, or if he voluntarily resigns the nomination, the chairs of just the six precincts that make up District 6 could be called for an extra duty,
In case there is a vacancy on the ballot for District 6, then up until July 3, the Democrats could use a caucus of the district’s six precinct chairs to elect a nominee.
As indicated by the Monroe County Democratic Party website, the precincts making up District 6, with their precinct chairs, are: Bloomington 01 (Nora West), Bloomington 03 (Nicole Bolden), Bloomington 04 (Geoff McKim), Bloomington 05 (vacant), Bloomington 18 (Emma Shriberg), and Bloomington 19 (Henry Wolfla).
Two of the precinct chairs are recognizable elected officials—Monroe County councilor Geoff McKim, and Bloomington city clerk Nicole Bolden.
It’s not a requirement that a precinct chair live in the district for which they are chair—because the party chair can appoint someone to a chairship, even if they don’t live in the precinct.
McKim doesn’t live in the city of Bloomington. Bolden lives in Bloomington, but not in District 6.
Based on the most current voter registration file, which was provided to The B Square by Monroe County election staff on Friday, two other District 6 precinct chairs, Shriberg and Wolfla, also don’t appear to live in District 6. That leaves just one current District 6 precinct chair who does live in District 6—Nora West.
Before a potential caucus, Henry would still have time to make appointments of precinct chairs.