Bloomington mayoral ballot access case dismissed, highlights 7-day waiting period for voter registration

On Friday, the lawsuit that Bloomington resident Joe Davis filed over access to the Nov. 7 ballot as an independent mayoral candidate was dismissed.

The ruling on Davis’s claim was by Lucas Rudisill, who is the magistrate judge out of Greene County, who was assigned the case.

Davis filed the lawsuit after he fell 14 short of the 352 signatures that he had to collect in order to be listed as a choice on the ballot. Democratic Party nominee Kerry Thomson will remain the only candidate for Bloomington mayor on the Nov. 7 ballot.

The ruling came after absentee ballots had been sent to voters who had applied for them, and with early in-person voting set to start next week, on Wednesday, Oct. 11.

There’s a legal principle called the Purcell Doctrine that says the courts should not change election rules when an election is fast approaching, because of the risk of confusion. But in his ruling, Rudisill did not rely crucially on the Purcell Doctrine,  even if it was a factor. “Purcell does not deprive a trial court of subject matter jurisdiction over election disputes that arise on the eve of elections…,” Rudisill wrote.

In his ruling Rudisill dug into the subject matter of a 7-day waiting period that is applied after voter registration application materials are submitted to a registration office.

The 7-day waiting period was a factor, because as part of his effort, Davis had helped unregistered voters fill out voter registration application materials, and turned in their application materials, so that they would be eligible to sign his petition. That’s allowed under Indiana election law.

At the center of the case were several signatures that Davis submitted to the Monroe County election division, coupled with new voter registration applications for those who had signed his petition. Under Indiana election law, there’s a 7-day waiting period, after the application is submitted, for a voter registration to become valid.

That meant when the Monroe County election division staff processed the voter registration applications, as well as the ballot petition signatures, on the same day as he submitted them, the voters that Davis had helped get registered did not show up as registered voters in the database. So their ballot petition signatures were not counted.

About this circumstance, Rudisill noted that Davis was not alleging “that he was misinformed or induced to believe by …that turning in signatures of unregistered voters coupled with voter registration applications between the dates of June 23 and June 30 would result in his qualifying for placement on the City of Bloomington Mayoral Ballot…”

Rudisill continued, “Rather, it appears to be simply [Davis’s] own oversight in failing to understand the voter registration and verification process in relation to the Petition of Nomination process that is to blame for his purportedly narrowly missing the timeframe within which to submit a successfully supported Petition of Nomination.”

Still, Davis’s situation did resonate with Rudisill to a certain degree. “The Court is not without sympathy for Plaintiff’s predicament and certainly sees how such a result could be remedied by imposing a statutory obligation for voter registration offices to not [try to verify ballot signatures until the 7-day waiting period had expired for newly registered voters.]

Rudisill wrapped up that line of thought by writing “[I]t is not within the purview of this Court to create new laws that change how elections are conducted; that is a function for the Indiana General Assembly with ample notice to all Indiana residents.”

It’s somewhat unlikely that a new law would be on the books for 2024 independent candidates.

The Davis case is probably a lesson for independent candidates for Monroe County office in 2024. If registering new voters is a part of their effort to get ballot access, then it’s important to turn in voter registration application materials 7 days ahead of submitting the person’s signature on a ballot petition.

The number of signatures needed to appear on the ballot as an independent in a countrywide race is 2 percent of the total votes cast in the most recent election for Indiana Secretary of State in the county. In 2022, a total of 39,884 Monroe County voters cast a ballot in the Secretary of State’s race. That translates into 798 signatures.