Dave Stafford for www.theindianalawyer.com
A federal judge Wednesday ordered Marion County to establish at least two early satellite voting precincts in time for the November general election, though the court refrained from requiring them in time for the May 8 primary election.
Senior Judge Sarah Evans Barker issued an injunction in a suit brought by Common Cause and the NAACP. The suit filed in 2017 alleged that the county election board’s decision in recent years to permit early voting in just one location countywide provided unequal access to the ballot and violated voting rights in Indianapolis, particularly for minority voters.
Barker’s injunction was issued contemporaneously with a 48-page order that found that there was too little time before the May 8 primary to order early voting precincts, creating too great a burden on the Marion County Election Board.
“The benefits to Plaintiffs at this late hour, meanwhile, would be comparatively modest. Finally, while the character and magnitude of Plaintiffs’ injury does not vary with the type of election (primary or general), the public’s interest in an electoral market free from arbitrary governmental interference in favor of one political party over another is less impaired in the primary-election context. And the public, too, would be ill served by last-minute upheaval and confusion in the administration of the May primary,” Barker wrote in Common Cause Indiana, et al. v. Marion County Election Board, et al, 1:17-cv-1388.
“As to the November general election, however, we find that the balance of equities tips in Plaintiffs’ favor,” Barker wrote. “… Plaintiffs’ fair likelihood of success on the merits, and the constitutionally fundamental nature of their asserted injury, justify the imposition of this reduced burden. “Both Plaintiffs and the public are positioned to enjoy the full benefits of (early in-person) voting restored to its 2008 levels, while the public will suffer minimal disruption to any ongoing election preparation efforts, and will reap the harvest of an electoral contest conducted without a governmental thumb on the scale.”
The Election Board in earlier years offered early in-person voting in two to four locations. In 2008, the county established early-voting sites at North Central High School and at the Southport Government Center. But in more recent years, the Election Board voted against satellite early voting facilities, so early voting was available only at the County Clerk’s office in the City-County Building.
While Barker’s order puts the force of law behind requiring Marion County to provide early in-person voting locations, the board previously indicated it would expand early voting in 2019.