The Monroe County Election Board met on Thursday to discuss the residency of Bloomington City Council candidate and IU student David Wolfe Bender, setting an official hearing date for May 18.
The address on Bender’s candidate form and voter registration is in District 6, where he is running, but residents of the address said he doesn’t live there. A resident told the IDS he and his friends had signed the lease for next year, and Bender was not on it.
At an election board meeting on March 2, the vice chair of the county Republican Party, William Ellis, made a formal complaint after the IDS reported on Bender’s residency in February.
At the last meeting on March 9, the board read aloud an email from Bender’s lawyer announcing his intention to withdraw from the race after the primary election. The email asked the board to confirm the withdrawal and stop investigating, but the board said they plan to move ahead with the investigation.
Thursday’s meeting began with an introduction from Guy Loftman, a former member of the election board who is serving as a proxy for Monroe County Democratic Party Chair David Henry concerning matters involving Bender. Loftman said Henry did not think it was appropriate that he continue to oversee this matter.
[RELATED: City Council candidate David Wolfe Bender is running in District 6, residents say he doesn’t live there]
The first action of the board was to set a tentative hearing date for May 18, which was the earliest time the board could meet after the primary election. The board set a date after the primary to avoid overwhelming election staff.
The next item to be discussed was who to subpoena.
Republican-appointed board member Donovan Garletts said he wants to hear from Bender, see the lease that Bender said he had in the original IDS article and get a letter from the current tenants and landlord of the residence Bender claims to live at. He also said he wants to get the full lease document from the current tenants.
The board voted to send a letter inviting the landlord of the property to appear at the hearing or send a statement if appearing in person was not possible.
The board discussed issuing a subpoena for Bender, but the board’s counsel Molly Turner-King said Bender’s attorney could file a motion to quash the subpoena. This would make the May 18 hearing date impossible, Turner-King said, because a judge would have to examine whether the subpoena overstepped its bounds.
Loftman said the board should instead invite Bender to give him an opportunity to speak. If he does not appear, then the board will choose whether to refer to a prosecutor based on the evidence available. Loftman said that this would prevent a potential motion to quash from delaying the process.
Monroe County Clerk Nicole Browne said she was concerned that not issuing a subpoena would not send a serious enough message if election laws had been breached.
“How seriously do you take the election board when you, in your own handwriting three times, put an address intending to run as a candidate and you don’t live there?” she asked.
She said she was afraid that the public would see the election board as not taking the matter seriously.
“And that means somebody will do this again,” she said.
Loftman said he wanted to move as quickly as possible to fully investigate the former candidate.
“I think the best thing we can do to say ‘don’t mess with the election process’ is to get this as quickly as we can to the prosecutor,” Loftman said.
Browne said she feared that if they did not subpoena Bender and the prosecutor decided not to prosecute, it would send a message that someone can get away with testing the system.
“That will not happen in Monroe County,” she said. “It will not without consequences.”
Ultimately, the board voted to send a letter inviting Bender to appear at the hearing and present a copy of his lease, instead of issuing a subpoena.
Finally, the board acknowledged another email from Bender’s counsel stating that any further investigation would be political. Garletts said he disagreed since two-thirds of the board are, like Bender, Democrats: Loftman, appointed as a proxy for Henry, and Browne, elected as county clerk.
“I'm pretty sure folks don’t eat their own, so if this is political then that’s news to me,” he said.
Browne said an investigation is the right thing to do.
“I have been a candidate,” she said. “I have to put my address where I live.”
Editor's note: David Wolfe Bender is a former employee of the Indiana Daily Student.