May 17, 2019

Federal Lawsuit Challenges Indiana's Voter Signature Law

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A government watchdog group is challenging the constitutionality of an Indiana law that allows election officials to throw out voters' absentee ballots if they think the signature on the envelope doesn't match other signatures on file.

The federal lawsuit filed Thursday in Indianapolis by Common Cause Indiana contends that the practice of discarding absentee ballots allowed under the law resulted in the rejection of "several hundred and possibly more than a thousand mail-in absentee ballots" submitted in 2018.

The complaint seeks an injunction to prevent enforcement of the law. It alleges that because Indiana's law does not require election officials to notify voters that their ballots were discarded those voters have no way of knowing their vote wasn't counted and no way to challenge the decision, The Indianapolis Star reported .

The suit emphasizes that Indiana lacks any rules or standards to determine whether a signature is genuine and that county election officials receive no training in handwriting analysis.

The complaint was filed on behalf of Common Cause and four St. Joseph County voters whose ballots were not counted because of questions about their signature on the envelope containing their absentee ballot. Three of those voters are elderly and one of them is a 69-year-old woman with Parkinson's disease whose "signature becomes increasingly illegible as the day goes on, although her signature has never been questioned by her bank or anyone else," the suit states.

If that woman had known election officials were questioning her signature, she would have validated it, the suit says.

She and the lawsuit's other voters who sued only learned that their ballots were rejected when they were contacted by Common Cause, which had sought copies of ballot envelopes containing ballots that were rejected based on signature mismatches.

The lawsuit says that Indiana's law can be especially problematic for people who are elderly and disabled or have limited English language skills because signature variations are more likely for those individuals.

The suit names as defendants Secretary of State Connie Lawson, the St. Joseph County Election Board and the three members of the board as defendants.

Lawson's spokeswoman says the Secretary of State's office does not comment on pending litigation.

St. Joseph County Clerk Rita Glenn, a member of the election board, said the board would not comment because it had not yet been served with the lawsuit.

Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn said in an emailed statement that Indiana's signature review practice has stripped too many Hoosiers of their voice in government.

"This system is deeply flawed and we trust the court will side with the voters who were wrongly and unknowingly disenfranchised and end this unconstitutional and undemocratic system once and for all," Flynn said.

Common Cause and its attorney, William Groth, sought records about signature mismatches from six Indiana counties prior to filing the lawsuit.

Such lawsuits have been successful in other states, Groth said. In neighboring Illinois, for example, the suit was resolved when lawmakers required notice to voters whose signatures were being questioned.

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