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The Election Case of Richard L. Roudebush v. R. Vance Hartke of Indiana (1972)

Photo of R. Vance Hartke

Contested election: Indiana recount of ballots.

Request for recount: Nov. 17, 1970
Hartke seated: Jan. 21, 1971
Supreme Court decision: Feb. 23, 1972
Recount completed: July 24, 1972

Result: Hartke retained seat

In 1970 Democrat R. Vance Hartke of Indiana received his party's nomination for a third term in the United States Senate. His Republican opponent was five-term Representative Richard Roudebush. Roudebush had agreed to President Richard M. Nixon's request that he give up a safe House seat to challenge Hartke, a persistent critic of the administration's Vietnam War policies. The ensuing race was described as "one of the most acrimonious and bitterly fought Senate campaigns in recent American history." Roudebush attempted to portray his opponent as sympathetic to Communist countries in general and North Vietnam in particular. He condemned Hartke's acceptance of a $30,000 campaign contribution from a Chicago mail order firm shortly before his appointment to the Senate Post Office and Civil Service Committee. Hartke, for his part, attacked the administration's military and economic policies, and his supporters suggested that Roudebush had not fully recovered from a head injury suffered in a plane crash two years earlier. On election day, Hartke received a slim plurality of 4,500 votes out of 1.7 million votes cast.

Statement of the Case
Richard Roudebush exercised his right under Indiana law to demand a recount, claiming irregularities in eleven counties. Vance Hartke successfully blocked his opponent's petition before a United States District Court, based on the argument that a recount would interfere with the Senate's constitutional right to judge the elections and qualifications of its members. Roudebush appealed this decision to the United States Supreme Court. Pending this appeal, the Senate seated Hartke on January 21, 1971, "without prejudice to the outcome" of the court case. Hartke then moved to dismiss Roudebush's appeal as moot, a claim that the Supreme Court rejected.

A year passed before the Supreme Court ruled on February 24, 1972. The Court decided that Indiana officials were within their rights to conduct a recount, but that the Senate was not bound by the results and could arrive at an independent determination. The subsequent recount reduced Hartke's plurality by only 48 votes. On June 12, 1972, Roudebush acted to terminate the recount. On July 24, Howard W. Cannon (Democrat-NV), chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Privileges and Elections, announced that "Vance Hartke is the duly elected Senator from the State of Indiana and is entitled without reservation or qualification to his seat in the Senate."

In 1971 President Nixon had appointed Roudebush to a high-ranking post in the Veterans' Administration. In 1974, President Gerald R. Ford nominated him as that agency's administrator. The Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, chaired by Vance Hartke, recommended confirmation, which occurred on October 1, 1974. Roudebush served in that position until the start of the Jimmy Carter administration in 1977. He died in 1995.

Hartke lost his 1976 reelection bid to Republican Richard Lugar by a margin of 41 to 59 percent.

Source: Adapted from Anne M. Butler and Wendy Wolff. United States Senate Election, Expulsion, and Censure Cases, 1793-1990. S. Doc. 103-33. Washington, GPO, 1995.

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