NewsPublic Affairs / September 23, 2020

Hoosier Voters Can Sue To Extend Poll Hours On Election Day After Judge Halts Law

Original story from   IPBS-RJC

Article origination IPBS-RJC
A 2019 Indiana law, now halted, said only county election boards - by unanimous vote - could ask a court to extend polling hours on Election Day.  - Lauren Chapman/IPB News

A 2019 Indiana law, now halted, said only county election boards - by unanimous vote - could ask a court to extend polling hours on Election Day.

Lauren Chapman/IPB News

Hoosier voters will be able to go to court this fall to ask for polls to stay open longer if there are problems on Election Day.

That’s because a federal judge halted an Indiana law that would’ve barred voters from asking a court to extend polling hours.

A 2019 state law barred anyone from suing on Election Day to keep polls open longer if problems arose – except for a county election board. And even then, the law said those bipartisan boards must vote unanimously to bring the request to a judge.

The law also limited a judge from deciding why poll hours should be extended – they could only do so if the polling place failed to open on time or shut down during the day.

Advocacy group Common Cause Indiana sued, arguing the measure could make it harder for some Hoosiers to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

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A federal judge agreed. Judge Richard Young said there are recent examples in Indiana where the 2019 law would’ve unfairly prevented people from voting. In 2018, Monroe County polling places ran out of ballots. But the state law doesn't list that as a reason a judge could extend polling hours. And Johnson County voters that year sued to keep polls open longer after technology problems caused delays. Those voters wouldn't be able to do so with the new law in place.

Young also wrote the state didn’t provide any legitimate reason why the law should exist. Indiana argued the measure helped comply with federal law – but Young noted a separate state statute already did so. And the state also said the measure would help ensure the integrity of the election.

But Young said state lawyers never explained how.

"The State may not simply invoke the phrase 'election integrity' without further explanation," Young said.

Contact reporter Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

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