South Bend city clerk candidate files complaint against opponent, incumbent mayor just days before primary

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By: Krystal Vivian kvivian@953mnc.com

Less than a week before the May 5 primary election, South Bend city clerk candidate Derek Dieter filed a complaint Wednesday, April 29, against his opponent and the incumbent mayor for breaking an Indiana election statute.

Dieter, a Democrat, said Kareemah Fowler and Mayor Pete Buttigieg violated Indiana’s anti-slating statute because campaign brochures and signs expressing Buttigieg’s endorsement of Fowler were sent out and the St. Joseph County Election Board wasn’t notified.

Indiana’s anti-slating statute (IC 3-14-1-2) forbids candidates from printing, publishing or distributing “a slate during a primary election campaign” without meeting certain requirements, including having the written consent of all candidates sent to the county election board five days before the materials are sent. The word “slate” is used as a general term in the statute to mean “a sample ballot, reproduction of an official ballot or a listing of candidates.” 

The statute wouldn’t apply to TV commercials or yard signs, though it is open to interpretation, Trent Deckard, co-director of the Indiana Election Divison, said in a phone interview Thursday, April 30.

Deckard said it would apply if, for example, there was a flyer sent ahead of a primary election claiming that certain candidates are the official party candidates.

“The other thing to keep in mind is that it’s not uncommon for candidates to appear in ads together,” Deckard said. “They run together, they associate together, they affiliate together… they put up yard signs together or yard signs that list two names. It’s dependent upon the candidates, but it does happen.”

Alex Rosselli, Buttigieg’s campaign manager, told 95.3 MNC’s news partner ABC 57 that the brochures and signs don’t violate Indiana’s slating law — and even if they did, the law was struck down in 2014.

Indeed, U.S. District Court Judge Sarah Evans Barker ruled in November that the state’s anti-slating statute is unenforceable, according to the Indy Star. The judge said candidates can’t be punished for using campaign fliers that are not approved by local election boards.

Dieter told WNDU he believes the campaign brochures published by the Buttigieg campaign that support both Buttigieg and Fowler is a slate as defined by the statute.

Dieter’s complaint won’t be addressed by the St. Joseph County Election Board until after the May 5 primary election, according to Rita Glenn, chief deputy clerk of St. Joseph County.

Glenn said the complaint was put on the agenda for May 12, the board’s next regularly scheduled meeting.