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Louisville Democratic Rep. Nima Kulkarni ruled off ballot by Court of Appeals

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Louisville Democratic Rep. Nima Kulkarni ruled off ballot by Court of Appeals

May 15, 2024 | 11:32 am ET
By McKenna Horsley
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Louisville Democratic Rep. Nima Kulkarni ruled off ballot by Court of Appeals
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Rep. Nima Kulkarni, D-Louisville, (LRC Public Information)

LOUISVILLE — A sitting Democratic state representative has been disqualified as a primary candidate after the Kentucky Court of Appeals reversed a recent Jefferson County Circuit Court decision. 

Rep. Nima Kulkarni, who filed to run for a fourth term in the 40th House District, is not a bona fide candidate, according to the panel of three judges who issued an opinion Tuesday morning — Sarah Walter Combs, Pamela R. Goodwine and J. Christopher McNeill. The candidacy challenge was filed in court by Dennis Horlander, who previously represented the House district and lost to Kulkarni in the 2018 and 2020 Democratic primaries. 

Combs wrote Tuesday’s 12-page opinion and Goodwine and McNeill concurred. The case centers around the validity of Kulkarni’s nominating papers, which had to be signed by two witnesses who are Democratic voters in the 40th District. At the time of signing, one witness was a registered Republican and changed her registration after the filing deadline. The court noted that the witness “is not allowed to vote for Kulkarni in the 2024 Democratic primary election.” 

Last month, Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Mitch Perry dismissed the case and argued that Hornlander’s argument failed to “establish the heavy burden required to disqualify a candidate from the ballot.” Steven Megerle, an attorney for Horlander, promptly appealed the case. 

Kulkarni said in a statement to the Kentucky Lantern that she is “absolutely taking this to the Supreme Court.”

“The Court of Appeals got it wrong and ignored major components of the law,” she continued. “I am disappointed that they chose to disenfranchise voters one day before early voting begins. We are absolutely fighting this unjust decision.”

Megerle told the Kentucky Lantern that the Court’s decision was “a win for closed partisan primaries” and “the rule of law.” Kentucky has long had closed partisan primaries where only registered members of a political party can vote in that party’s primary. 

“From Day One, this was not about politics. This was not about settling scores,” Megerle said. “This was about the rule of law, and this was about defending our closed primary system that we’ve had since 1912.” 

Megerle added that he appreciated the Court’s timely decision, as Kentucky’s primary election is next Tuesday, and early voting begins Thursday.

As for Kulkarni’s appeal to a higher court, Megerle predicted “the likelihood that the Supreme Court will issue relief before the primary election day is very slim.” 

No Republicans filed to run in the 40th House District. Kulkarni had one challenger — William Zeitz, of Louisville. 

The ballots for the primary have already been printed. If the appellate decision stands, signs will be posted at precincts next week to let voters know that Kulkarni has been disqualified from the race.

Both Kulkarni and Horlander testified in Jefferson Circuit Court on the lawsuit.