Don’t for a minute think that Tuesday’s ruling from the Indiana Recount Commission ends the troubled tale of Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White.
Far from it.
In clearing White of political wrongdoing, the commission voted 3-0 that White can continue serving because it was determined that he was eligible to run for office last year. The Democratic Party had contended that the Republican was ineligible because he registered and voted at a precinct in which he did not reside.
It was a political victory for the embattled White, even though the panel’s chair, a Republican, scolded him for skirting the edge of the law, saying he was “treading on the line.” Now, a far more difficult challenge remains before him. He still faces seven counts of vote fraud and perjury in Hamilton County. If convicted on even one of those counts, he will be forced from office — and could go to jail.
At issue is whether White committed voter fraud when he registered to vote at his ex-wife’s residence when he also had a condo with his then-fiance.
A jury of 12 of his peers will determine White’s fate in a trial scheduled to begin Aug. 8. This week’s political victory, experts say, will have no bearing on the criminal trial.
White claims he made an innocent mistake because he was immersed in a complicated personal life stemming from a divorce. He testified he was helping raise his 10-year-old son, making plans for his second marriage and campaigning for the state’s third highest office — secretary of state.
As all this plays out, White has stubbornly resisted calls from even some in his own party, including Gov. Daniels, to step aside from his elected office until the matter is resolved. Democrats, of course, have called for his resignation.
There is good reason for White not to be serving in his post at this moment. The secretary of state is Indiana’s top election official, a public servant whose job it is to ensure that laws are obeyed and that elections are fairly conducted. That he is embroiled in a serious challenge to his own actions related to voting is damaging to both his personal credibility and that of his state office.
Hoosiers should not have to endure the spectacle of a top state elected official being tried for a criminal offense. He would best serve his Hoosier constituents by vacating his office, either through resignation or by taking a leave of absence. While resignation is preferable, a leave of absence would be better than what he’s giving this state now.
White is in a mess of his own making. The secretary of state’s office should not be dragged through it with him.