News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 27, 2007

Judge grants recount in Terre Haute mayoral race

Judge David Bolk denies motions to dismiss recount and Burke challenge

By Austin Arceo

TERRE HAUTE — A Vigo County judge Tuesday denied motions to dismiss a recount and challenge from Mayor Kevin Burke, attorney James Bopp Jr. said.

Vigo Superior Court Division 3 Judge David Bolk also ordered a recount for all ballots cast in the mayoral election, and ordered election equipment, including all ballots and used electronic voting equipment, be impounded. Bopp, who represents Bennett, said he was surprised by the court’s ruling.

He said that previous court rulings determined that if a candidate’s name is not correctly stated in a petition as on the ballot, then the petitions should be dismissed.

The mayor-elect appeared on a sample ballot as “Duke A. Bennett;” his middle initial was omitted from the Burke petitions.

“I’m surprised that they’re going forward at all,” Bopp said of Burke’s recount and challenge.

Burke is contesting the election results. Also, he is contesting Bennett’s candidacy in reliance on the Hatch Act, a federal law that limits the political activity of employees of some not-for-profits that receive federal funding.

Bennett is the director of operations for the Hamilton Center, Inc., which receives federal funding.

Attorney Ed DeLaney, who represents Burke, said that he would not speculate in the case.

“I am confident, however, at some point Mr. Bennett would want an opportunity to tell his side of the story,” DeLaney said, “and I will continue to give him every opportunity to do that that I can.”

DeLaney said that if Bennett is qualified, then he should explain that.

“I’m not asking him about his love life,” DeLaney said. “I’m asking him if he’s qualified for mayor, and I’m hearing a deafening silence.”

Bopp has said previously that Bennett “does not have the responsibilities that would trigger Hatch Act limitations on his political activities.”

He previously said that the prospect of overturning the election based on the recount was remote because of Bennett’s margin of victory, which was 107 votes.

“No, I don’t think either the recount or the contest will change the results of the election,” Bopp said Tuesday.

Vigo County Clerk Pat Mansard’s office was responsible for storing the voting equipment since the election. But Bolk ordered the Vigo County Sheriff to “impound and secure” the equipment.

“We had everything already secure,” Mansard said, “and so now it’s just, you know, under his order.”

Bolk also rescheduled the pre-trial conference, initially scheduled for today, for 9 a.m. Thursday. Bopp has a speaking engagement in Indianapolis at the previously-scheduled time, he said.

Austin Arceo can be reached at (812) 231-4214 or austin.arceo@tribstar.com.