CLARK COUNTY — A senior judge from Salem, Robert Bennett, has been named to oversee the Charlestown mayoral race recount after Senior Judge Steven Fleece recused himself.
Sitting Mayor Bob Hall, Republican, lost his bid for re-election by 32 votes to political newcomer Treva Hodges, Democrat. Hall filed for a recount, citing what he believes were mistakes made in the counting of the absentee ballots, uncounted absentee votes, issues with the programming of the electronic voting system and more. However, that process was delayed when Fleece recused himself due to his plans to retire in 2020 and return to private citizenship.
Hall’s attorney, Michael Gillenwater, and Hodges’ attorney, Tom Lowe, decided together on asking Bennett to take the case, after reviewing a list of potential senior judges Gillenwater created, Lowe said. He said the three are scheduled to talk today about the case, set dates and more. After that discussion, Lowe said he will know more about a potential timeline to getting the outcome of the election finalized.
According to Indiana law, the recount must be completed no later than Dec. 20. However, the appointed commission may petition the court for an extension. Gillenwater said he doesn’t want to rush the process, but hopes to have the recount finished before Christmas.
“When the judge recused himself, that cost us about eight days,” Gillenwater said. “Which, when you’re trying to get done by the end of the year, eight days is a long time.”
Even if the recount isn’t complete by Jan. 1, Lowe said Hodges will take over as mayor. He said because of that, it would be great to have this settled before the New Year.
Gillenwater said he expects the judge to order the formation of a recount commission, with Hall and Hodges each nominating a representative and the third being an election mechanic.
Gillenwater filed an order with the court last week, seeking election documents related to the Charlestown mayoral election, among them:
• Absentee, Election Day and approved provisional ballots that were deemed “defective and spoiled”
• Absentee ballot applications
• Ballot machine tabulation tapes
• Contact information for poll workers, absentee ballot counters and provisional ballot counters, along with emails for the last two groups.
No ruling has been made on Gillenwater’s request.
Lowe said he hopes the decision on which votes should and shouldn’t count happens before the recount begins.
“[It] doesn’t make sense to hand count votes if there’s a contest about some of those votes,” Lowe explained. “It seems to me it’d make sense to have a hearing and determine if there were any ballots not countable first, before doing the recount so that you know what you’re recounting.
“The parities will need access to the election materials, especially in light of the contest, to see if there’s any evidence of any wrongdoing, any ballots that shouldn’t have been cast or anything,” Lowe said, adding that the judge will put procedural safeguards in place to protect those records from being misplaced.
A message for Bennett was not returned by press time.
– News and Tribune reporter Aprile Rickert contributed to this story.