Suit Challenges Indiana’s New Law Blocking Voters from Asking the Courts to Extend Voting Hours

Today, Common Cause Indiana filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a state law that strips voters of their right to petition state courts to extend polling-place hours. Common Cause Indiana v. Lawson was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. Common Cause Indiana is being represented in the case by Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, the law firm of Eimer Stahl LLP and the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

“Indiana voters who face problems voting on Election Day through no fault of their own should have a right to petition courts to extend polling-place hours to ensure every eligible voter has a chance to make their voice heard,” said Julia Vaughn, policy director of Common Cause Indiana. “Indiana is the only state that has tied the voters’ hands in this way. Our aim is to disrupt what could become a dangerous trend across the country.”

In May 2019, the Indiana legislature passed a law signed by Governor Holcomb that strips voters of the right to ask state courts to extend hours at polling places where barriers have reduced or prevented voting, reserving that right exclusively to county election officials. At the same time, the law limits the state courts’ ability to extend polling-place hours and prevent disenfranchisement. Polling place hours may be extended only when polling sites are physically closed. In reality, various types of malfunctions and delays that do not require physical closure still cause voters to be unfairly turned away. Keeping polling places open late is an important way to address such problems.

“This lawsuit is about protecting Hoosiers’ ability to access the ballot when they are turned away by long lines, equipment failures, or election administration mistakes,” said attorney Ami Gandhi of Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.  “All these problems disenfranchised eligible voters in recent elections, and they will likely recur in November as well. It is standard practice across the country to keep polling places open late as a last resort, when voters were blocked from voting earlier in the day. That is unworkable under Indiana’s unfair law.”

“Indiana seeks to shut the courthouse door on those fighting to safeguard access to the ballot box this season,” said Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The evidence makes clear that COVID-19 has upended our elections and resulted in longer lines, poll workers shortages and other problems that have negatively impacted the Election Day experience in many communities across the country, with an even starker impact on African Americans and other voters of color. Access to the courts has always proven critical for safeguarding voting rights and Indiana’s law is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to immunize officials from being held accountable for Election Day failures. This is irresponsible and unacceptable.”

“As we have witnessed in recent elections nationwide, conditions at polling places on Election Day can prevent voters from casting their ballots,” said attorney Greg Schweizer of Eimer Stahl LLP.  “In some instances, the only effective remedy to this problem is the extension of polling-place hours.  Indiana has taken away voters’ ability to ask a state court for this remedy and placed it solely in the hands of the busy county election officials who are themselves responsible for the administration of Election Day.  The Constitution guarantees Indiana voters a more direct means to protect their fundamental right to vote.”

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