A Lawsuit Worth Supporting: Early Voting in Marion County, IN

voter id, voter suppression and voting in the elections

Yesterday, the NAACP, Common Cause and several individual plaintiffs brought a lawsuit that I consider overdue.

A bit of background: Indiana law allows early voting, and also allows counties to establish satellite voting centers to make casting those votes more convenient. The law requires a unanimous vote by the County’s Election Board members in order to open a satellite center. Some Boards establish several  in order to accommodate their voters. Lake County, with fewer residents than Marion County, has eight.

Marion County is the most populous county in the state, but for the past several years, the lone Republican on the three-member board has adamantly opposed opening any satellite sites.

As the Complaint notes,

  1. Marion County had 699,709 registered voters in 2016 but because of the MCEB’s refusal to approve satellite voting locations, it had but a single early voting location due to the MCEB’s failure this decade to approve a resolution establishing satellite sites for early voting, a ratio of one (1) early voting site to 699,709 registered voters.
  2. By contrast, Hamilton County had 230,786 registered voters in 2016. Its election officials unanimously approved two satellite voting locations in addition to the office of the circuit court clerk, a ratio of one early site for every 76,929 registered voters.
  3. Hendricks County had 109,903 registered voters in 2016. Its election officials approved three (3) satellite voting locations in addition to the office of the circuit court clerk, a ratio of one early voting site for every 27,476 registered voters.
  4. Johnson County had 107,546 registered voters in 2016. Its election officials approved five (5) early voting sites in addition to the office of the circuit court clerk, a ratio of one early voting site for every 17,924 registered voters.

The refusal to open satellite sites in Marion County has caused  long lines and extended wait times at the sole available site–the office of the circuit court clerk in Indianapolis.

The refusal to approve satellite voting sites has also resulted in a dramatic decrease in the number of voters who cast an early in-person absentee vote in 2012 and 2016 as compared to the numbers of voters who voted early in 2008 when satellite locations were approved and used, which has the further effect of causing a higher percentage of Marion County voters to cast an in-person ballot on Election Day, thus resulting in increased lines and wait times at precinct polling places.

Moreover, because Marion County has the highest percentage (28%) of African-Americans in Indiana, and because African-American voters are more likely than other voters to utilize early voting, the MCEB’s refusal to approve multiple satellite locations for early in-person absentee voting as permitted by Indiana law has disproportionately resulted in the denial or abridgement of the right of African-American voters to cast an early in-person absentee ballot.

The suit asks the Court to find that the Republican member of the Election Board has caused the Board to violate the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses, the Voting Rights Act and the Indiana Constitution, and to issue an order “enjoining Defendants from continuing to obstruct, interfere with and block the establishment of at least two satellite voting locations in Marion County for the federal elections in 2018 and beyond.”

It’s bad enough that Indiana’s polls close earlier than all but one other state, and that our Voter ID law operates to suppress the votes of the poor and elderly. But to limit early voting to a site inconvenient to so many and where parking is so difficult is just another way of giving the finger to minority and Democratic voters in Indianapolis.

If you agree that this suit is meritorious and overdue, join me in supporting the crowdfunding effort that has been established to cover litigation expenses. The estimable Bill Groth (a local hero!)–is handling the case pro bono, but Defendants are sure to run up the expenses that will have to be covered.

This cynical effort to suppress votes rather than competing for them “fair and square” needs to be defeated.

[Originally published at SheilaKennedy.net on May 3, 2017]

Sheila Kennedy is a former high school English teacher, former lawyer, former Republican, former Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, former columnist for the Indianapolis Star, and former young person. She is currently an (increasingly cranky) old person, a Professor of Law and Public Policy at Indiana University Purdue University in Indianapolis, and Director of IUPUI’s Center for Civic Literacy. She writes for the Indianapolis Business Journal, PA Times, and the Indiana Word, and blogs at www.sheilakennedy.net. For those who are interested in more detail, links to an abbreviated CV and academic publications can be found on her blog, along with links to her books..

Comments

Loading Disqus Comments ...

Leave a Reply

Loading Facebook Comments ...