INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Republican Indiana secretary of state candidate Diego Morales faced sharp criticism Thursday as records show he voted in one county while claiming a property tax credit for living in another as he unsuccessfully ran for Congress four years ago.
Democrats alleged Morales might have committed voter fraud, a claim that comes days ahead of Tuesday’s elections as Morales has emphasized “election integrity” in his campaign to become Indiana’s top elections official.
Hendricks county records, first reported Thursday by The Indianapolis Star, show that Morales voted in the 2018 primary and general elections using the address of a Plainfield condominium. At the same time, Marion County records show he and his wife were also receiving the maximum $45,000 property tax assessment deduction for an Indianapolis house that is limited by state law to a person’s primary place of residence.
In response, Morales issued the following statement on Friday:
“The issue regarding my residency has been previously vetted in the media and no wrongdoing was discovered then and nothing new is being reported now. I followed all applicable state and federal election and property tax laws. This defamation and character assassination by replaying old news and attaching damaging headlines is reprehensible.”
Morales, a former governor’s office aide to Mike Pence, is trying to extend Republican control of the secretary of state’s office against Democratic candidate Destiny Wells. She has attacked Morales for being ousted from low-level jobs in that office in 2009 and 2011 after being written up for poor work performance and as one of many Republican 2020 “election deniers” seeking to win state offices around the country.
Morales has sidestepped addressing questions about those issues and whether he has overemphasized his military service during his campaign.
Wells and state Democratic Chairman Mike Schmuhl both released statements Thursday accusing Morales of possible voter fraud with his 2018 ballots.
“I don’t think the choice could be any more clear for Indiana — a vote for Diego Morales will further degrade Indiana’s elections, further insult Hoosiers’ integrity, and set the stage for failure at the highest levels of Indiana government,” said Wells, a lawyer and Army Reserve lieutenant colonel.
Morales has told the AP that his priorities as secretary of state would include “cleaning voter rolls” by checking more aggressively for people also registered to vote in other states and creating an “election task force” that would investigate “shenanigans” in counties around the state. He also advocated for extending to mail-in ballots the state law requiring voters to show a government-issued ID card.
“My vision, my number one, obviously, vision is to be the protector, the defender of our elections,” Morales said. “In my mind if we don’t protect our elections now, we won’t have a country soon.”
Marion County property records state Morales and his wife bought their one-story house on the northeast side of Indianapolis and were granted the standard homestead property tax exemption in 2017.
In September 2017, Morales registered to vote in Hendricks County, just west of Indianapolis, as he was starting a campaign for the 2018 Republican nomination for an open U.S. House seat from Indiana’s 4th District. That district included the Plainfield condominium, which records show Morales did not own, but no parts of Indianapolis.
Morales finished a distant third in the GOP primary, which was won by U.S. Rep. Jim Baird. His voter registration was moved to the Indianapolis address before the 2020 elections, according to Hendricks County records.
Morales’ voter registration actions recall those of Republican Charlie White. He lost his position as secretary of state in 2012 after being convicted on felony voter fraud-related charges for using his ex-wife’s address for his voter registration instead of a condo he shared with his fiancee so he wouldn’t lose his Fishers Town Council seat after moving out of that district.
Morales potentially committed felony voter fraud as state law requires a person to live in a precinct for at least 30 days before voting in an election, Indiana University law professor Luis Fuentes-Rohwer told The Indianapolis Star.
Morales’ situation “sounds like the very example of voter fraud derided by partisans at the national stage who happen to be Republican,” said Fuentes-Rohwer, who specializes in election issues. “This is the example you hear about, the reason we need voter ID in Indiana, the argument has always been for cases like this one.”