Common Cause IN and NAACP Lawsuit Seeks to End Unequal Access to the Ballot

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  • julia vaughn, david vance

Common Cause Indiana, the Indiana State Conference of the NAACP and NAACP Branch #3053 filed a federal lawsuit today challenging Marion County policies that give county residents fewer opportunities to vote early than are provided in other Indiana localities.

“Given Indiana’s low levels of voter participation, state laws and decisions by local election officials should always seek to remove barriers to voting, not erect new ones,” said Julia Vaughn, Common Cause Indiana’s policy director. “Unfortunately, that’s not the case with the state law that requires a unanimous decision by the county election board for the establishment of early, in-person voting at satellite locations. 

“Since 2010, partisan politics has meant less access to early voting in Marion County than in other counties across the state,” Vaughn added.  That’s not just wrong, it’s unconstitutional and we are going to court to fight for equal voting access for Marion County voters.” 

The organizations were joined in the litigation by individual plaintiffs John Windle and Doris McDougal.  The plaintiffs want the court to declare Marion County’s policy unconstitutional and order local officials to provide early voting opportunities comparable to those in neighboring counties. 

“While our attorney is providing his services pro bono, there are other substantial expenses that go with this sort of litigation,” Vaughn said. We’ve established a crowdfunding campaign at raise the funds necessary and urge those who support this effort to make a contribution and share the information widely on social media.  Working together, we can end this unfair practice and make voting in Marion County just as convenient as it is in neighboring counties.”       

Barbara Bolling Williams, President of the Indiana State Conference of the NAACP said, “The Indiana NAACP is proud to stand here today to announce this challenge because this statute is harming all voters in Marion County but having a particularly pernicious effect on voters of color.  Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act prohibits voting practices and procedures that discriminate on the basis of race or language group.” 

Bolling Williams concluded, “The refusal to allow satellite voting is about controlling who has access to the ballot.  Whether in intent or outcome, this practice is discriminatory and must be stopped.” 

Chrystal Ratcliffe, President of NAACP Branch #3053 stated, “When Marion County voters were given the option of in-person, satellite voting in 2008 it was well-utilized and extremely popular – that year 19.3% of the votes cast in this county were by early voters.   Since 2010 and the decision by Marion County Republicans to block access to early voting at satellite locations, the number of votes cast early in Marion County has dropped dramatically – to 12.7% in 2016. “ 

“This stands in sharp contrast to the counties that surround Marion County, all of which have chosen to make in-person, satellite voting widely accessible.  For example, in Johnson County, which made early voting available in six locations, more than half (51.6%) of all votes cast came from early voters.  Marion County voters deserve the same access to early voting as voters elsewhere and we are filing this litigation to see that they get it before the 2018 election.”

Doris McDougal said,   “As a longtime member of the NAACP, I recognize how important it is to challenge attempts to make voting less accessible.  Voter suppression can take many forms and when the largest county in the state provides only one location for early, in-person voting that is the end result – it is more difficult to vote in Marion County than in most other areas of the state.  This unfair law hurts not just those people who want to cast an early, in-person ballot; it also contributes to long lines on Election Day, affecting all voters.  Marion County voters have been negatively impacted by this situation for too long and it is time for it to end.” 

John Windle said, “In 2008 I voted at the satellite early voting location at North Central High School and had a great experience – it was easy and convenient – just what voting should be.  That certainly wasn’t my experience in 2016, when I made several attempts to vote early and was unable to because of the lack of parking and long lines at the only early voting location in the City County Building.  When I learned that partisan politics is responsible for this it made me angry and I contacted Common Cause Indiana, to see what could be done.  I am glad to join them, the NAACP, our attorney Bill Groth and Doris McDougal in the challenge to end this practice that discriminates against Marion County voters.”   

To read the complaint, click here.