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Judge rules for John Rust in lawsuit to get on U.S. Senate GOP primary ballot

A screenshot of a John Rust campaign video. Rust is a White man with white hair, wearing glasses and a blue dress shirt.
Screenshot of Rust campaign ad
A Marion County judge ruled that southern Indiana egg farmer John Rust can appear on the U.S. Senate Republican primary ballot if he meets the state's signature requirement for ballot access.

U.S. Rep. Jim Banks (R-Columbia City) might have an opponent on the ballot for next year’s U.S. Senate primary after all.

A judge ruled in favor of southern Indiana egg farmer John Rust Thursday, in a lawsuit challenging the state’s ballot access law.

There are two ways an Indiana candidate can run in a Republican or Democratic primary. They must have voted in that party’s primary in the last two primary elections in which they cast a ballot — that’s up from one primary, a change made in 2021 — or, they have to get the permission of the county party leader where they live.

John Rust doesn’t meet those requirements. He voted in the 2016 GOP primary, but cast Democratic ballots more than 10 years ago. And his local party leader refuses to allow him access.

Rust sued — and Marion County Judge Patrick Dietrick ruled in his favor.

Dietrick wrote that while the U.S. Supreme Court has acknowledged the right of political parties to decide their own members, the election itself is run and financed by the state. And so the ballot access law must serve the citizens’ interests, not just the political party’s. And Dietrick wrote, “there is no compelling or even rational government interest being served here.”

Dietrick’s ruling also noted that the ballot access law doesn’t meet its purported purpose, which is to ensure party membership or commitment to the political party. Because Indiana primaries are open to any voter, the law can’t guarantee that voting in a Republican primary, for instance, ensures that voter is a Republican.

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And there’s recent proof. Dietrick noted that just last year, two candidates ran as Democrats in Owen County, Indiana, despite openly saying they were Republicans.

Dietrick also said there is U.S. Supreme Court precedent to strike down Indiana’s law as an unconstitutional time restriction, citing an Illinois law that was struck down because it locked people into party membership for 23 months. Indiana’s two primary rule, Dietrick argued, restricts people from running for office for at least 48 months.

An appeal of the ruling is possible. And even if upheld, Rust must still get signatures from 500 registered voters in each of the state’s nine congressional districts to appear on the ballot.

Brandon is our Statehouse bureau chief. Contact him at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

Brandon Smith has covered the Statehouse for Indiana Public Broadcasting for more than a decade, spanning three governors and a dozen legislative sessions. He's also the host of Indiana Week in Review, a weekly political and policy discussion program seen and heard across the state. He previously worked at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and WSPY in Plano, Illinois. His first job in radio was in another state capitol - Jefferson City, Missouri - as a reporter for three stations around the Show-Me State.