The Democratic voting record of a Republican seeking a Columbus City Council seat has stirred the political pot less than three weeks before the city primary.
Nathan Barr, who filed as a Republican to challenge incumbent Tim Shuffett for the District 5 City Council seat in the May 5 city primary, is apologizing after learning that the paperwork he filed to declare his candidacy contained a factual error.
Barr’s filing form said he last voted in a primary as a Republican. But his voting record indicates that he chose Democratic ballots the last two times he voted in a primary — in 2006 and 2008.
Before that, he voted as a Democrat in 2003, then switched and voted as a Republican in the 2004 presidential primary.
Voting history in primary elections is used on Indiana’s candidate filing form to qualify a person to run under a particular party’s banner.
On the filing form, which is signed by the candidate and notarized as a sworn declaration, candidates indicate that they understand that party affiliation is determined by which party ballot the candidate took in the most recent Indiana primary in which he or she voted.
Barr said he remembers asking for a Democratic ballot in the 2008 presidential primary during the hotly contested race between future President Barack Obama and then-Sen. Hillary Clinton.
For Republicans primary voters, Sen. John McCain, the eventual nominee, was on the Indiana presidential primary ballot against Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul and Mitt Romney.
Contested races for Republicans in the 2008 GOP Bartholomew County primary were for president, Superior Court II judge, coroner and county council at-large.
“In 2008, 95 percent of Republicans voted in the Democratic primary,” Barr said.
Actually, two-thirds of the votes cast in the 2008 Bartholomew County presidential primary were for Democrats. During the general election, however, the majority of county voters cast ballots for Republicans.
Barr learned his candidate filing had become an issue a few days ago when Shuffett gave a copy of the paperwork to Barr’s brother, who passed it on to him, he said.
“I’ve always been a Republican,” Barr said. “I just breezed by it (the question) when I filed,” he said. “I’m not really sure what I can do about it. I don’t know what the options are.”
Shuffett said he passed the information along because he wanted Barr to be aware that he had misrepresented himself when filing.
Candidates need to know their voting record to represent themselves fairly before the public and need to have an understanding of the electoral process, Shuffett said.
“It’s a matter of being honest and having integrity in everything we do,” Shuffett said.
Challenge deadline passed
The deadline to challenge Barr’s candidacy as a Republican passed on Feb. 13, Bartholomew County Clerk Jay Phelps said.
Barr, 29, a Cummins Inc. specifications analyst, filed for council on Feb. 5, according to clerk’s office records.
County election officials have been aware of the discrepancy, but cannot challenge anyone who files under a party that conflicts with a voting record, Phelps said.
Those challenges can only be made by a voter in the district where the candidate resides, in this case the city’s District 5, or by Republican Party Chairwoman Barb Hackman, Phelps said.
When a candidate has a conflict between a voting record and party affiliation, the normal process is for the candidate to sit down with the party chair and express an interest to run in that party, Phelps said.
There is a box to check on the filing form that says the party chair certifies the party affiliation and it is attached to the filing form, Phelps said.
Hackman said Phelps told her of the discrepancy when Barr filed, as Phelps checks each candidate’s voting record after the candidate files.
She made some calls, including one to the state Republican chairman, and met with the county GOP central committee to decide whether to challenge Barr’s candidacy.
Hackman had not met Barr and said usually Republicans who file for office speak with the party chair in advance and are interviewed at a party caucus to make sure they are in good standing, she said.
“We do want people to have the opportunity to put their name on the ballot,” she said, adding that many first-time candidates are putting themselves out of their comfort zone when filing for office.
“I struggled with making an objection and taking it to the election board,” she said. “I wish he would have been more upfront and just said he was a Democrat.”
Part of her hesitancy had to do with first-time candidates who file and immediately begin spending money on campaign materials, which can become a hardship if their candidacy is challenged, she said.
But Hackman now thinks she probably should have challenged Barr’s candidacy.
“I thought it was one time voting as a Democrat, and now I find out it was quite a few,” she said.
She was open to talking to Barr and giving him the option of explaining why he was filing as a Republican, she said, and might have even certified allowing him to run as a GOP candidate if he had asked, she said.
She would have asked about his values and whether he understood what Republicans stand for, Hackman said.
“It’s just pretty hard to take when he has voted Democratic more than Republican,” she said.
Shuffett said he did think about challenging Barr’s candidacy before the deadline, but was unsure whether Barr had talked to Hackman and in the end decided not to question it.
He added he did not pass the voting history information along to the media or to the election board or any other agency. He simply gave it to Barr’s brother to pass along to his opponent.
“I really just wanted him to be aware of it,” Shuffett said. “People should be aware that voting makes a statement.”
Filing error could be felony
Even though the challenge deadline has passed, that doesn’t mean a candidate is completely off the hook as far as responsibility for a party filing discrepancy, said Dale Simmons, co-general counsel for the Indiana Election Division.
Candidates who file with a party that doesn’t match their voting record are filing false information and committing a Level 6 felony under Indiana’s election code, Simmons said.
If a county prosecutor wanted to charge the candidate, and the candidate was convicted of a felony, Indiana election law would require that the candidate withdraw, he said.
Or, after the primary, any candidate may voluntarily withdraw for any reason up until July 15, Simmons said. After that date, candidates may only withdraw for a specific reason, such as moving out of their district.
Phelps mentioned that if Barr voted in the Republican primary on May 5, that might take care of the issue, but Simmons said that wouldn’t fix the problem.
“It was false when it was filed,” Simmons said. “It doesn’t fix that. You can’t undo this.”
Hackman said she was frustrated that she was unable to talk to several of the candidates who filed against Republican city council incumbents.
“If you’re going to file as a Republican, and especially if you’re filing against an incumbent, it’s a courtesy to talk to the party chair,” she said, “Especially when the incumbent is doing a really great job,” she said of Shuffett.
Hackman described some of the filings as from a group of people who seemed to want to make sure every Republican city councilman had a challenger.
“And they might not be true Republicans,” she said. “I struggled with that, and it’s really unfortunate.”
Barr said it is now obvious he did the filing incorrectly, adding he did not do it on purpose.
“I do want to say I’m sorry,” he said. “I feel horrible about it. I messed this up.”
This is Barr’s first time running for office.
He said he was unfamiliar with the rules and regulations, but is learning as he goes along.
“I wish this could have been resolved two months ago, during the window of the time for a challenge,” he said.
Barr said if anything, the willingness to pick up a Democratic ballot shows his flexibility in considering different viewpoints.
“I know that I have voted Republican in general elections,” he said. “I’m not the kind of person who just pulls a ballot because I’m a Republican.”
Barr said his intention in running is to make a better Columbus.
“I don’t know anything bad about Tim Shuffett,” Barr said. “If this is what politics is all about, it’s not why I’m here. I want to do the right thing for the city,” he said.
Shuffett, 51, an estimator for CASE Construction Inc. who is seeking his second term as a councilman, said Barr’s voting record makes it unclear whether he is a Democrat or a Republican.
Shuffett added that as a candidate for office, he wants to represent himself fairly and honestly.
“I’m not sure what drove him to run,” Shuffett said of his opponent. “It’s obvious he isn’t being helped through the process. I just wanted to make him aware.”
The Bartholomew County 2008 summary report shows 67 percent of voters here took a Democratic ballot in the presidential primary out of about 19,000 ballots cast, compared to 33 percent taking the Republican ballot.
In the 2008 fall general election, more than 25,000 voters, or 54.91 percent of Bartholomew County voters, cast their ballot for McCain, indicating some Republicans did vote on the Democratic ballot in the 2008 primary.