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Court issues judgment in absentee ballot case

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The Marion Circuit Court has outlined the required procedures for dealing with the county's absentee ballots following a suit that accused the Marion County Election Board of not following statute.

Raymond J. Schoettle, Erica Pugh, and the Marion County Republican Party filed the complaint Oct. 31, 2008, alleging the Marion County Election Board stopped following statutes regarding absentee ballots - whether done in person or by mail - after the special election in March 2008 to elect the replacement for Congresswoman Julia Carson, who died in December 2007.

Instead of processing the challenged ballots as provisional ballots and keeping them separate, the suit claimed the ballots are immediately put through the machines, creating a risk that fraudulent ballots are being counted. The suit also claimed the election board hasn't issued specific instructions to its precinct election boards regarding challenges to absentee ballots and instructed the precincts to count all absentee ballots.

Marion Circuit Judge Theodore Sosin ordered that the election board treat all challenged mail-in absentee votes as provisional ballots and set them aside for future resolution by the election board. The order also required the board to instruct all inspectors and precinct board members to follow the procedures outlined in the Indiana Election Day Handbook.

The Indiana Court of Appeals dissolved the preliminary injunction with a 2-1 vote, but on the same day the Indiana Supreme Court reinstated Judge Sosin's original order. In March, the high court remanded the case.

The parties in Raymond J. Schoettle, et al. v. Marion County Election Board, No. 49C01-0810-PL-049131, reached a settlement in late November and Circuit Judge Louis Rosenberg issued a seven-page consent judgment Monday. That judgment binds the parties and the Marion County Democratic Party, which intervened after the case was filed.

"The record in this case demonstrates that voters and election workers are often confused about the requirements and procedures involved in absentee ballot voting and challenging," wrote Judge Rosenberg before laying out what procedures workers and challengers must follow regarding absentee voting.

The judgment includes:

- The chairs of each major political party in Marion County shall be allowed to appoint an equal number of absentee ballot clerks to review all absentee ballot applications and envelopes received by mail prior to their delivery for counting on Election Day.

- The election board maintains the power to determine whether an absentee ballot envelope signature is genuine and the precinct board will rule on the validity of any dispute regarding if a signature is genuine.

- The election board will maintain and provide to the major political parties a list of all absentee ballots for which notations are made to the precinct board.

- If a proper challenge is made, the absentee ballot may be put in the ballot box only if the absentee voter's application is properly executed to be considered an affidavit. Otherwise, a proper challenge shall be treated as a provisional ballot and returned to the election board for further disposition under election law and the consent judgment.

The consent judgment also states that placement of a name on a home foreclosure list or a voter getting an eviction notice isn't a sufficient basis for a challenge. The election board is also required to give to challengers and precinct board members written instructions before any election.

The consent judgment applies only to absentee balloting and does not affect in-person, non-absentee voting.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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