Lawsuit challenges state law on asking judges to extend voting time on Election Day

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Posted at 6:00 PM, Jul 08, 2020
and last updated 2021-09-30 07:28:23-04

INDIANAPOLIS — A non-partisan political watchdog group is taking the state to court to give voters the right to petition to keep polls open longer on Election Day, if they run into problems while voting.

The federal lawsuit filed in Indianapolis on Wednesday challenges a 2019 state law that bars voters, candidates, and political parties from asking courts to keep polls open late if there are issues at polling locations.

Common Cause Indiana argues the law is an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment right to free speech and the Fourteenth Amendment right to due process under the 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,” Julia Vaughn, policy director of Common Cause Indiana, said.

Before the new law took effect, any Hoosier had the right to go to court to extend voting hours for just about any voting irregularity, such as broken voting machines, long lines or problems with ballots. Under the current law, only county election boards can ask a judge to keep polls open past the mandated statewide closing time of 6pm.

“Indiana is the only state that has tied the voters’ hands in this way,” Vaughn said. “Our aim is to disrupt what could become a dangerous trend across the country.”

Indiana already has one of the earliest poll closing times in the U.S. — only Indiana and Kentucky close polls at 6 p.m. With COVID-19 expected to make in-person voting more difficult on Election Day, the lawsuit argues that Indiana risks disenfranchising voters during a presidential election year if voters don’t have the right to petition to keep polling locations open.

“Indiana's law is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to immunize officials from being held accountable for Election Day failures,” said Kristen Clarke, with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which is representing Common Cause.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. The defendants named are Secretary of State Connie Lawson, Indiana’s chief election official, members of the Indiana Election Commission, the co-directors of the Indiana Election Division, and several county election officials.