TRAFALGAR, Ind - A municipal election in the small Johnson County town of Trafalgar is raising questions about who is checking the backgrounds of candidates running for office.
Trafalgar’s Republican Clerk-Treasure Donna Moore, who is running for reelection, filed a candidate challenge October 11 against her Independent opponent Kimberly Rice. The challenge was filed citing the discovery that Rice was convicted in 2005 of felony credit card theft and fraud in Virginia. However, Moore missed the filing deadline for such a challenge by two months, so it was too late to remove Rice from the ballot.
“Kimberly Rice will be on the ballot,” said Johnson County Clerk Trena McLaughlin. “It will be up to the voters of Trafalgar.”
Rice has acknowledged the criminal charges as a “mistake from 14 years ago” and expressed interest in withdrawing from the race, citing plans to move out of state in the near future. Rice missed the deadline to withdraw from the race and will remain on the ballot, but says she will not be able to accept the office if elected.
Indiana law prohibits a person from serving in public office if they have a felony conviction on their record. However, there are no formal requirements for checking candidates’ criminal backgrounds.
“The state does not require background checks for candidates filing for office,” said Brandon Kline, spokesperson with the Indiana Secretary of State’s Office. “They do, however, have to swear under the penalty of perjury when filing for their candidacy that they meet all the requirements and haven’t been convicted of a crime that would impact their ability to serve in the office.”
Rice signed a form when she filed to run for office May 8 that says, “I am not ineligible to be a candidate due to a criminal conviction that would prohibit me from serving in this office.”
State Republican and Democratic officials say they have no formal policy or process for checking criminal backgrounds of candidates. Local party leaders will often meet with newcomer candidates in order to get to know them, but that may or may not involve any kind of criminal background check.
Kline says it’s up to candidates to be honest when filing to run for office, and it’s up to individual voters to do their own research into their candidates. He and McLaughlin say it’s important for candidates and voters to know what the law requires of candidates and to be familiar with deadlines for filing any challenges.
“You can go to Indianavoters.com and see who’s going to be on your ballot,” Kline said. “Do your research [on] who this person is, who you want to vote for, who you wouldn’t want to vote for.”
“Anyone that wants to be a candidate, and then any voter, should definitely look at those candidates and see, make sure that they are qualified candidates,” McLaughlin said.