Pfeil back on ballot for St. Joseph County Council; election board rules withdrawal was invalid
Richard Pfeil is back on the ballot in the Republican primary for St. Joseph County Council after the county election board unanimously ruled that his withdrawal was invalid.
Pfeil currently represents County Council District C, which covers most of Granger.
In January, he filed for reelection in the Republican primary for that council district. But two days later, he also filed as a candidate for the District 1 County Commissioner race to succeed Andy Kostielney, who is retiring.
County Democrats opposed that sequence of events and filed a challenge with the county election board. County Democratic party chair Diana Hess argued that Pfeil’s filing for the commissioner race was invalid, as he did not first withdraw from the council race.
Then on Feb. 4, Pfeil withdrew from the county council race. But later that week, he also withdrew from the commissioner race and tried to rescind his withdrawal from the county council race.
However, Pfeil’s withdrawal form from the council race was a photocopy — instead of an original as state statutes require — and Hess also challenged that withdrawal as invalid.
In addition, Hess argued that Indiana law does not allow candidates to rescind their withdrawal of a candidacy.
Pfeil’s attorney James Masters disagreed.
“There is nothing in Indiana law that says a candidate cannot rescind a withdrawal of a candidacy,” Masters said. “That which is not forbidden, is allowed.”
Election board chair Catherine Fanello, a Democratic appointee, said that based on her interpretation of Indiana election statutes, candidacy withdrawals are not allowed.
But in the end, the board did not even need to rule on that matter.
On Friday, it voted unanimously to dismiss Hess’ challenge over the commissioner race, as Pfeil withdrew his candidacy.
But it also ruled unanimously in favor of Hess’ challenge that Pfeil’s withdrawal from the council race was filed improperly.
“I do believe that the council withdrawal was faulty, as Ms. Hess outlined in the challenge, because a copy was filed and not an original,” Fanello said.
Basically, that means Pfeil was legally never actually off of the ballot for the council race.
“Mr. Pfeil, you will remain on the ballot, and your party will be able to vote,” Fanello said.
He will now face Dan Schaetzle in the Republican primary for District C. No Democrats filed to run in the Democratic primary for the seat.
It’s a simple end to a confusing situation.
“It was an extremely messy filing. I do not advocate for any future candidate to file in that manner, but the law is the law,” Fanello said after the vote. “I think that’s a bar exam question or a law exam question.”
As for the District 1 county commissioner race, Carl Baxmeyer and Robert “Butch” Wood will face off in the Republican primary. Democrats Don Westerhausen and Michael McManus will compete in the Democratic primary.
Also on Friday, the board removed Democrat Larry Jasinski from the ballot for county council District E.
Fellow Democrat Alex Bowman filed a challenge arguing that Jasinski did not live within the district’s boundaries, and the board found in favor of Bowman’s challenge because Jasinski was not present to argue his case.
Besides Fanello, the board is also composed of Republican appointee Benjamin Horvath and county clerk Rita Glenn, a Democrat who serves as the board’s secretary under state law.
If you appreciate this kind of journalism on your local NPR station, please support it by donating here.