Espar survives ballot challenge

August 29, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS – Although her candidacy was challenged, Christina Espar will remain on the ballot as the Republican candidate for La Porte County Prosecutor – for now.

The Indiana Election Commission’s hearing Friday resulted in a 2-2 tie, split by party line: The two Democrats on the commission voted to approve the challenge; two Republicans voted to deny.

“The attorney for the Democratic panel iterated the legal standard is that a 2-2 split goes to the candidate. Without a majority, the challenge fails,” Espar said Tuesday.

She said she’s waiting on the commission to issue the official certification of her place on the ballot, which she hopes to receive by Sept. 7.

But that may not happen, according to Mary Lake, the attorney hired to represent the La Porte County Democratic Party, the chair of which – James E. Kimmel – filed the challenge.

Lake, who argued the challenge before the commission, said she expects the split vote to be followed by additional legal action.

Her husband, John Lake, beat Espar’s father, incumbent La Porte County Prosecutor John Espar, in the May Democratic Primary for prosecutor. Christina Espar subsequently filed to run on the Republican ballot against Lake.

But according to the challenge, Espar missed the deadline to do so by filing her candidacy five days after the La Porte County Republican Party Executive Committee voted to allow her to fill the ballot spot.

The challenge alleges Espar was legally obligated to file a minimum of 72 hours prior to the June 27 meeting, and notes her paperwork was filed on July 2.

However, Espar said the 72-hour rule did not apply, as she was appointed by the chairman and not the caucus. And, she attempted to file on June 27, but part of her paperwork was initially rejected by the Election Commission because of the 72-hour rule they believed her to have violated.

At Friday’s hearing, Espar provided recorded evidence that the Republican Executive Committee told her she need not file 72 hours in advance of the meeting.

“We recorded (that conversation) because we wanted to make sure that if my (candidacy form) was refused (because of the date) that we had it on good authority why – just in case it was challenged, and it was,” Espar said.

Additionally, she showed that part of her candidacy documentation was file stamped June 27, which she says proves she attempted to file in enough time to be legally eligible to fill the ballot vacancy.

“I tried to comply with everything, and that was evident and clear,” Espar said. “And the Election Board attorney said that errors made by the board should not be attributed to the candidate.”

John Lake said Tuesday it’s his understanding the authority to appoint candidates is granted to a party’s executive committee; and the issue being decided in this instance is whether they were required to have a caucus.

He reiterated that the challenge was not filed by him, but by Kimmel. “They talked to me about whether I would challenge her, but I wasn’t concerned. The Republicans can run anyone they want,” Lake said.

He said he was present at Friday’s hearing because it was his wife’s birthday and their anniversary, and he was there to watch their son.

“It doesn’t really matter to me whether they keep her on the ballot or not,” John Lake said. “I’m happy I already beat her father. I’m confident that I’ll win the election going against her, too. ...

“I don’t mean to sound cocky, but I have a lot of people who are Republicans who are supporting me and a lot of people who are Democrats who are supporting me. This race … really should be nonpartisan because you need competent people who know what they are doing. You’ll see that in the debates; I’ll stand on my record.”

Election Commission Chairman Bryce H. Bennett Jr. did not respond to a request for comment.

Lake said the challenge of Espar’s candidacy was one of 10 filed by county Democrats. The remainder will go before the La Porte County Board of Elections and Registration on Thursday.

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