When Carmel businesswoman Dee Thornton went to file official paperwork to run as a Democratic candidate for Congress in Indiana’s 5th District, she was shocked to find the state considered her a Republican.
That’s because Indiana determines party affiliation on the previous primary election. In Thornton’s case, the last primary in which she voted was the May 2019 municipal primary, which featured several contested Republican races but no opposed Democrats.
“In the 2019 primary, while there were Democrats that were running, none of those races were contested,” she said. “I wanted to have a voice in who would be my mayor.”
To remedy the situation, Hamilton County Democratic Party Chair Joe Weingarten signed paperwork Jan. 8 stating that Thornton is a legitimate member of the party. He said he reviews these requests on a case-by-case basis.
“It’s always depending on what the circumstances are,” he said. “In this case, it’s quite obvious she’s a Democrat.”
Thornton ran as a Democrat for the same Congressional seat in 2018, and Weingarten said he did not need to sign a letter to confirm her party affiliation that time.
Weingarten said he’s preparing to sign similar paperwork for a candidate for statewide office who plans to file his candidacy later this week. That candidate recently moved to the county, he said.
Other decisions on party affiliation aren’t always as easy.
“I had one person who had 10 years of voting Republican, and her husband had donated $5,000 to the national Republican Party every few years,” Weingarten said, adding that he required her to commit to vote in the Democratic primary and work for the party before he approved the switch. “It’s going to vary by person, what their background is. People change parties all the time.”
Hamilton County Republican Party chair Laura Campbell said she is not aware of any Republicans planning to run in 2020 who are registered as Democrats.
Although it took Thornton longer to get her name on the ballot as a Democrat than she expected, she doesn’t regret voting in the Republican primary to support Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard, who won re-election.
“I disagree with the rule. I would love to see it changed,” she said. “I firmly believe that we should not let party affiliation prevent us from voting for who will govern. I will never give up my right to vote.”