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Special judge: Keep early-voting sites open

October 22, 2008

A special judge has ordered satellite early-voting sites in East Chicago, Gary, and Hammond to remain open over the objections of two Lake County Republicans.

Lake Superior Judge Diane Kavadias Schneider issued the order this afternoon in the consolidated cases of State of Indiana, ex rel. John B. Curley, et al. v. Lake County Board of Elections and Registration, and Hon. Thomas Philpot as Lake County Clerk, et al., No. 45D02-0810-PL-190, and United Steel Workers District 7, et al. v. Lake County Board of Elections and Registration, No. 45C01-0810-PL-256.

Republicans John Curley and Jim Brown challenged the opening of satellite early-voting offices in Lake County, citing potential voter fraud and the election board's lack of a unanimous decision in voting to open the sites. The United Steel Workers District 7 and other plaintiffs brought their suit to keep the locations open.

The Lake County Board of Elections and Registration was split 3-2 down party lines in their vote to open the satellite locations; the Democrats believed their majority vote allowed the locations to operate.

Indiana Code Section 3-11-10-26.3 requires a county election board to unanimously vote to establish satellite offices in the county, and under that statute, the location and operating hours must be included. The election board's order just included the location of the offices, not the hours of operation.

Despite these deficiencies in the Lake County Board of Elections and Registration's establishment of the satellite early-voting sites, Judge Schneider ruled to keep the sites open. She cited caselaw supporting that in the absence of fraud, election statutes are generally liberally construed to guarantee voters the opportunity to vote.

To stop early voting in Lake County on the basis of "an alleged technical irregularity" would contravene the purpose of election laws, wrote the judge, and the failure to establish these satellite early-voting locations could violate the U.S. Constitution by making it more difficult for some people of Lake County to cast their vote early.

Judge Schneider was appointed special judge in this consolidated case by the Indiana Supreme Court Oct. 16 after the parties failed to select a special judge by the prescribed deadline set by the high court.

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