Johnson County Council candidate who moved out of state remains on ballots

Voters who live in Franklin and Whiteland have one candidate on their ballots to select for county council, however, that candidate moved out of state months ago.

Republican Charlotte Sullivan is unopposed this fall in the race for Johnson County Council District 2, representing Franklin Township and southern Pleasant Township. She ran in the May primary, also unopposed, to fill the seat currently held by incumbent council member Rob Henderson, who did not seek reelection.

Sullivan, though, moved to Florida sometime this summer, and did not notify the Johnson County Clerk’s Office or the county election board to remove her name from the ballot, said Trena McLaughlin, county clerk.

The deadline for a candidate to withdraw from the ballot was July 15, and the ballot for Johnson County was finalized the week of Sept. 7. McLaughlin and other election officials first discussed their knowledge of Sullivan’s move during an election board meeting on Sept. 7.

To withdraw, a candidate must put it in writing via a state form, but McLaughlin said she has not received a withdrawal from Sullivan, as of Oct. 28.

“I, as the county clerk, have never had a conversation with Charlotte Sullivan that she was moving,” McLaughlin said.

Without the proper paperwork and because deadlines had already passed, Sullivan could not be removed from the ballot, McLaughlin said. Since she is the only candidate running for County Council District 2, she is the only option for voters to choose.

Sullivan did not respond to several requests for an interview.

Amanda Stevenson-Holmes, chair of the Johnson County Democratic Party, filed a formal complaint to the Johnson County Election Board on Oct. 26, questioning why Sullivan was not removed from the ballot after she moved out of state. She also brought it up to the board during its last public meeting that same day.

Stevenson-Holmes cited property records that show Sullivan knew she was moving to Florida at least sometime in August or July. Records from the Manatee County Property Appraiser show she is co-owner of a property in Bradenton, Florida as of Aug. 9. also shows Sullivan’s listed address in Franklin was sold as of Oct. 5.

Stevenson-Holmes also said she stopped by Sullivan’s property to see if she still lived there, she wrote in her complaint.

“When I stopped by the property in Franklin this morning, it’s visibly empty with no major furniture. The handyman who answered the door said Charlotte no longer lived there and the property had been sold,” she wrote.

Sullivan’s personal Facebook page also has public posts from a friend asking about the news of her moving to Florida, dating back to July 16.

The complaint was quickly resolved. McLaughlin responded to Stevenson-Holmes’s complaint on Oct. 27, and again said there is nothing she, as the clerk, can do without the withdrawal paperwork.

Stevenson-Holmes said she had an attorney review this issue, who also said nothing else can be done at this point. The attorney said there is a process for if there was another candidate, he/she could file a post-election contest and seek to be seated as the qualified candidate with the next highest number of votes. But because Sullivan is running unopposed, that does not apply. The Johnson County Republican Party can appoint a replacement in January when and if Sullivan does resign the seat after she is elected.

“This illustrates the importance of having multiple candidates on the ballot for one seat. As we look ahead to the 2023 election, anyone who wants to run as a Democrat can contact me,” Stevenson-Holmes said.

Beth Boyce, chair of the Johnson County Republican Party, said that her understanding was Sullivan found out she was moving after the deadline to withdraw, so there was nothing to be done at that point.

“There are deadlines in place for names to be removed from the ballot, you know, for various reasons like people have died or moved or whatever,” Boyce said. “By the time that we were notified, those deadlines had passed.”

At this point, Sullivan will have to resign after she would take office in January for the party to hold a caucus to fill the empty seat. A caucus can’t be held now because the seat is still occupied by Henderson.

Boyce contacted the state election division for advice on how to move forward with filling the seat, since Sullivan did not withdraw before the deadline. This is a unique circumstance, and the first time Boyce has had to handle a situation like this as party chair, she said. She wants to make sure the process to replace Sullivan is done properly.

“I’ve been through definitely different scenarios of people needing to be removed. But it’s always been before a deadline,” Boyce said. “… This is the first time it’s been like, OK, the deadline has passed, so you’re going to be on the ballot.”