INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar will fight Friday for the right to cast a ballot in one of his most important elections.
Lawyers for the Indiana Republican are set to argue a county elections board was wrong when it ruled Lugar and his wife cannot vote in the state's May 8 Republican primary. The board voted 2-1 earlier this month that Lugar cannot vote using the address from the Indianapolis home he sold in 1977 on his registration.
"The threatened harm to Senator and Mrs. Lugar — the denial of their fundamental right to vote — outweighs any potential harm to the board," wrote Michael Limrick, a Lugar attorney, in a motion requesting the court block the ruling of the Marion County election board.
The Marion County Circuit Court is set to consider the request Friday morning.
Lawyers for the board, whose members are named as defendants in the suit, argued in court filings the board's ruling was narrowly crafted in a way that does not invalidate Lugar's previous votes and stopped just short of beginning a criminal probe.
"If anything the Board acted in Lugar's favor by refusing the refer the matter on," board attorney Andrew Mallon wrote in a filing on its behalf.
That technicality, which kept the board's ruling out of the hands of Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, could lead the court to decide it shouldn't even handle the case, said Gary Welsh, a lawyer representing Greg Wright, who filed the original complaint with the Marion County elections board.
"The court first has to decide whether this is even right for review," Welsh said.
Lugar's residency has haunted him more than any other issue in the remaining weeks before voters choose between him and tea-party backed State Treasurer Richard Mourdock in the GOP primary. Tea partiers and Democrats have mockingly called Lugar a Virginia senator, because he has lived there since 1977. Ads run statewide have attacked Lugar on the issue.
The board's actions did not remove Lugar from the May primary ballot, and it said Lugar could also fix the problem by registering at another address in Indiana, such as the farm he owns.
Also Thursday, a Washington-based watchdog group filed a complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee Thursday seeking an investigation into whether Lugar improperly charged the Senate for hotel stays when returning to Indiana.
The group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, wrote in their complaint they believe money Lugar said he errantly spent on hotels while travelling back to Indiana on weekends over the past 20 years is greatly understated.
"While Sen. Lugar has acknowledged spending $4,500 on hotel expenses, it is unclear if this represents the full extent of the improper use of taxpayer funds," CREW executive director Melanie Sloan wrote in the complaint.
Lugar spokesman Andy Fisher questioned CREW's motives, noting that Sloan used to work for Sen. Charles Schumer, the New York Democrat who is running Senate Democrat's efforts to oust Republicans such as Lugar. Sloan worked for Schumer in the mid-'90s and founded CREW in 2003.
Luger brought the matter to the attention of the Senate finance clerk once he learned about the error, and "requested a review of reimbursements for his entire term of service. He is voluntarily paying for some official Senate business expenses that were incurred in past years," Fisher said in a statement.
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