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Indiana Election Commission removed 3 Indianapolis candidates from May primary ballot

The Indiana Election Commission hears candidate challenges during a meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Indianapolis. (Photo by Casey Smith/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

(MIRROR INDY) — There is little question that Chunia Graves is a Democrat. She is part of the Indiana Democratic Party’s 2023-24 class of emerging leaders, is the vice president of the Marion County Young Democrats and voted in last year’s Democratic primary.

But Graves, a Division I athlete who spent years in Florida and California pursuing her degrees before returning to Indianapolis, is not allowed to run as a Democrat for a Senate seat on the northeast side.

That’s because of a relatively new state law that dictates who can run as a Republican or Democrat. To prove party affiliation, candidates are required to show their last two votes in primary elections were for the party they aim to represent on the ballot. County party chairs also can waive the requirement.

Last week, the Indiana Election Commission removed Graves’ name from the primary election ballot after she could only provide proof of voting in a single Indiana Democratic primary. And by the time she asked Marion County’s Democratic chair to waive the requirement, it was too late.

Now Democratic voters in Senate District 34 will have no choice in who they send to the November ballot. 

“Let the people decide who they want in the seat. If that means giving people options, then please give people options,” Graves said.

Another candidate removed from the May primary was Democrat Deandra Thompson, who filed to run in House District 96. Like Graves, Thompson could not provide proof that she had voted in a second Democratic primary in Indiana.

Seymour Republican John Rust, who has fought to remain on the ballot as a candidate for U.S. Senate, was challenged on the same grounds. He voted as a Republican in 2016 but as a Democrat in 2012. But unlike Rust, there is no evidence that Graves or Thompson switched parties.  

David Nicholson, who had filed to run as a Democrat in Senate District 32, also was removed from the ballot after filing financial disclosure paperwork with the wrong legislative chamber. Two other candidates appear to have dropped out of the race. 

The changes mean even less choice for Marion County voters as they head to the polls in May. Out of 23 state legislative districts on the ballot this year, only five will have contested primaries.  

Board said its hands were tied

At least one commissioner was sympathetic to Graves’ situation, but acknowledged that their hands were tied by state law.

“I find you to be a very impressive young lady. And I hope no matter what happens here today you will go forward, because our community needs more young women like you to serve as role models and leaders,” Commissioner Karen Celestino-Horseman said. “Unfortunately, we have been saddled with this law that changed recently.”

Before 2022, in order to prove party affiliation, candidates only needed to show that the last primary they voted in was under the party for which they wish to run, or get approval from their county’s party chair. Now, candidates must show two primary votes or get chair approval. According to the Indiana Capital Chronicle, a Republican lawmaker said at the time the new law would “safeguard our parties’ platform and brand.”

Graves maintains she voted as a Democrat in the 2012 Indiana primary election and voted in Democratic primaries when she lived in other states. She could have gotten around the two-primary rule had she gotten approval from Myla Eldridge, chair of the Marion County Democratic Party. 

But Graves said that by the time she sought approval from Eldridge, it was too late. She’s not sure if she will run again in the future.

Eldridge did not return a voicemail left by Mirror Indy.

Had Graves remained on the ballot, she would have faced incumbent Democratic Sen. Jean Breaux, who was first elected to the Indiana General Assembly in 2006. She has been absent from the Statehouse during this year’s legislative session, citing “an infection of unknown origin.”

Stella Anderson, the constituent who filed the challenge against Graves, told the commission last week that she did so because she supported Breaux and wanted her to remain in office. 

Reached by phone, Anderson declined to speak with a reporter.

‘Hard for young people’ 

When Thompson filed to run as a Democratic candidate for House District 96 this year, she wanted to bring fresh ideas to the Statehouse.

After all, residents in the district on the city’s north side have been represented by the same man for nearly as long as 39-year-old Thompson has been alive. Democratic Rep. Greg Porter was first elected in 1992 and has served in the office ever since.

Her removal came as a disappointment to Thompson, who called it a “flawed system” that might discourage people from running.

“We have great young people who want to run,” said Thompson, adding she plans to run again in two years. She said she voted as a Democrat in primaries in 2008 and 2010 when she lived in Johnson County, but was unable to obtain proof of those votes. She said she declined to pursue approval from Elridge.

“I know there’s rules, but it’s making it hard for young people who want to do this thing we are calling democracy,” she said.

Both Breaux and Porter will now face no opponent in the primary election, and they are currently running unopposed in the general election. Republicans have until July to select a candidate to fill these ballot vacancies, but based on past elections, that’s unlikely to happen. 

Both legislators have run unopposed in the past several general elections.

Other Marion County Democrats faced challenges

Nicholson, who had filed to compete for the chance to face sitting Republican Sen. Aaron Freeman in District 32, was also removed from the ballot last week. A constituent filed a challenge to his candidacy after Nicholson filed his financial disclosure with the House, rather than the Senate.

Autumn Carter, who is running in House District 95, and Sarah Shydale, who is running in 97, also faced challenges last week. Carter’s challenge was dismissed, and the board voted to reject Shydale’s challenge after she showed proof that she had signed a lease to move into her current district more than a year before November’s election date. They are facing incumbent Democrats Rep. John Bartlett and Rep. Justin Moed, respectively.

Breaux also faced a challenge, but the commission dismissed it after the challenger did not appear at the meeting.

Two other candidates appear to have dropped out of their races. Tom Havens would have faced off against Patricia Bratton in May’s Republican primary for House District 32. The seat is currently held by Democratic Rep. Victoria Garica Wilburn. 

Edward Rogers, who would have faced Democratic incumbent Rep. Vanessa Summers in House District 99, is also no longer on the ballot, according to state candidate filings.

Mirror Indy reporter Emily Hopkins uses data to write stories about people. Contact them at 317-790-5268 or Follow them on most social media @indyemapolis.