The Monroe County Election Board met Friday to discuss an investigation into the residency of city council candidate and IU student David Wolfe Bender.
After reviewing Indiana code, the board clarified what laws they believe may have been violated, raising the potential violations from a misdemeanor to felonies.
For the past month, the board has been looking into a complaint surrounding Bender’s residency. The complaint came from the vice chair of the Monroe County Republican Party, William Ellis, who approached the board on March 2.
The basis of the complaint comes from an IDS investigation published in February that reported Bender did not live at the residence he listed on his declaration of candidacy and voter registration, according to current residents of the address.
Last week, the board set a date for a hearing on May 18 and decided to send invitations rather than subpoenas to relevant people, meaning they would not be required to attend. The hearing is set to occur even after Bender’s counsel announced his intent to withdraw from the race after the primary. Since the primary ballots are set, Bender’s name will appear on the ballot regardless, which is why he can only withdraw after the primary.
First on the agenda for this week’s meeting was to revise what elements of Indiana code the board wanted to refer to in a letter to Bender. The letter is intended to provide Bender with notice of the hearing and invite him to appear.
The board voted to include two specific laws – IC 3-14-1-13 and 3-14-3-1.1 – which both refer to fraudulent reports. The first refers to a candidate who knowingly files a false report, while the latter refers to filing a false voter registration application. Both are Level 6 felonies, which is the least serious type of felony under Indiana law.
A Level 6 Felony requires a prison sentence, which ranges from six months to two and a half years. However, a court can enter a judgement of a Class A misdemeanor, particularly if it is a first offense. This does not require jail time but has a maximum penalty of a year in jail.
The board agreed that the two codes are not exhaustive, and that a potential prosecutor could choose to pursue a different aspect of Indiana code. The board continually emphasized that the hearing was administrative and not judicial, meaning that the board’s role is to hold a hearing and take action they deem appropriate, such as referring the matter to a prosecutor.
Next, the board debated the specifics of the draft letter inviting Bender to the hearing. A point of contention was a line that said Bender could send his counsel in lieu of his appearance. Bender was not subpoenaed, so he’s not required to attend the meeting, but Republican board member Donovan Garletts said he felt like emphasizing that point was a “get out of jail free card.”
Guy Loftman, a Democrat appointed as a proxy for chair of the Monroe Democratic Party, David Henry, disagreed.
“We are saying we think he committed a crime,” Loftman said. “He has an absolute right to stay silent.”
Ultimately the board agreed to leave the sentence as it is.
The letter also asks Bender to provide a lease proving his residency and to notify the board of his appearance two weeks prior to the hearing.
The board finally voted to adjourn the meeting after continually recessing for almost a month.
Editor's note: David Wolfe Bender is a former employee of the Indiana Daily Student.