Election Board appears likely to dismiss residency complaint despite Perry Township candidate’s relocation

Laura Maser
Eric Tippmann
Melissa Rinehart

It appears Republican Eric Tippmann will remain a legitimate candidate for Perry Township Trustee Tuesday despite moving out of the area he hopes to represent.

As The News-Sentinel first reported last month, Tippmann recently bought a home on Lake Avenue, claiming the move was intended to make it easier for his non-driving daughter to attend ballet class in Fort Wayne. Democratic trustee candidate Melissa Rinehart and others subsequently lodged complaints with the Election Board, claiming the relocation placed him in violation of state law requiring a residency in the township in order to seek office there.

Tippmann has said he plans to return to his Perry Township home on Willowind Trail as early as January, and in a response to the Election Board last week he and attorney J. Spencer Feighner insisted that intent makes him a viable candidate under state law — a position now endorsed by Election Board attorney Laura Maser.

Maser’s opinion, which is expected to wield considerable influence when the board considers Rinehart’s complaint in a special meeting Monday, states that under Indiana code “A person with a residency in a particular precinct keeps that residency until it is abandoned by (1) the person having the intent to abandon the residence, (2) the person having the intent to establish a new residence, and (3) the person acting to establish a new residency . . . Indiana law makes certain presumptions about residency, including that a person does not gain or establish residency in a precinct in which they are physically present for temporary employment, educational purposes, preparing to purchase or occupy a residence, or other purposes ‘without the intent of making a permanent home in the precinct.’ So, residency boils down to the person’s intent.”

Maser also stated she believes “the facts presented in the complaints and the response demonstrate that there is not a substantial reason to believe that election law violations have occurred . . . The law is clear that temporary living arrangements . . . do not change residency, unless there is an intention by the person to make a permanent home in the temporary precinct/location. Mr. Tippmann denies that this is the case. Moreover, according to his attorney, he remains an active candidate in Perry Township by engaging in speaking opportunities there and by placing election signs there.”

And even if the board disagrees with Maser’s opinion, there’s little it could do, she concluded, “other than to, perhaps, instruct Mr. Tippmann to file a notice of withdrawal if his intention is to abandon his Perry Township residence. The election code provides that other remedies belong to the individuals affected (such as the party’s county chairman or other candidates), not the board.”