Lake Station mayoral candidate kicked off ballot due to felony conviction

Lake Station Mayor Bill Carroll will face one fewer opponent in November after a successful challenge ousted Independent Kevin Gaskin from the ballot.

The Lake County Board of Elections Tuesday voted 4-0 to support a challenge to Gaskin’s eligibility filed by Lake Station Councilman Rick Long, D-5th, seeking to remove him from the ballot. A challenge to a mayoral candidate can be filed by anyone who lives within the city.

In the challenge, Long cited court documents indicating Gaskin plead guilty to a felony, criminal recklessness, in 2008. That felony was modified to a misdemeanor after Gaskin completed the terms of his probation. Long was not at the election board hearing but was represented by a proxy, Jack Daniels.

Election Board president Kevin Smith, a Democrat, said that while Gaskin’s criminal record was modified by the courts, reducing the charge on his record from a felony to misdemeanor, the law concerning who is eligible to run for office is different.

“My concerns about the city of Lake Station have got me to the point where I have to run for office,” Gaskin said.

He argued the court reduced the charge after he successfully completed his probation and believed because the charge is now considered a misdemeanor on his record he would be eligible to run.

Smith said when Gaskin was in court in 2008 having the conviction reduced, he probably never considered he would be running for a political office and didn’t even consider the distinction between the laws.

“(The law) helps from a personal standpoint. From a candidate standpoint, at least as I see it, it doesn’t help,” Smith said.

Michael Tolbert, the Democratic attorney for the Election Board, agreed state statute prohibits anyone who has pleaded guilty to a felony from running for elected office. The law goes further to state that just because a felony conviction is reduced to a misdemeanor by the courts, the original plea of guilty stands as it relates to election law.

“The law can be very harsh and, in this case, I think it is,” Smith said. “This prevents you from running for officer forever.”

Carly Brandenberg, the Republican attorney for the board, said the board’s position is inline with a 2006 Indiana Attorney General opinion on the matter. In the opinion, released Jan. 25, 2007, the attorney general found the election law did disqualify anyone convicted of a felony regardless of the final disposition after the conviction.

Board member Clerk Mike Brown, a Democrat, said the election board works to encourage people to run for office and does not want to discourage people from getting involved, but its hands are tied.

“It’s unfortunate. We don’t make the laws. We have to enforce them,” Brown said.

Smith echoed Brown’s comments that the board has to follow what the law says, regardless of the circumstances of the case.

“We’re not passing judgement on you as a person, we are trying to operate under the law,” Smith said.