(CN) – The winner of the 2007 mayoral race in Terre Haute, Ind., was not an eligible candidate because he worked for a federally funded program, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.
Campaign opponent Kevin Burke claimed winner Duke Bennett violated Indiana’s Little Hatch Act, which bars officers and employees of state and local governmental agencies whose activities are funded by the federal government from running for office. Burke argued that he should have won.
Bennett worked as a director of operations at the nonprofit Hamilton Center. In 2007, the organization operated part of a Head Start Program and received more than $125,000 in federal funds.
Bennett argued that the trial court could not deem him unelectable without allowing an investigation. The lower court determined, and the appeals court affirmed, that Bennett was subject to the election law because he was an officer at a federally funded program. But the lower court found that Burke could no longer be disqualified, because he had been elected mayor and is no longer a candidate.
The appeals court reversed that portion of the ruling, finding that “because Bennett was disqualified from even being a candidate, he was ineligible to assume office.” The appellate court also found that the votes cannot be nullified, and that Burke has no right to the office.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Najam said Burke could no longer maintain his cause of action, because he could not prove that Terre Haute voters knowingly wasted their votes on Bennett. Burke’s inability to prove wasted votes trumps Bennett’s ineligibility, according to Najam.
The appeals court recommended that the trial court issue an order for a special election to find a mayor for Terre Haute.