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Class action suit challenges voter-removal statute

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State officials are prohibiting people convicted and incarcerated for misdemeanor offenses from voting while they are behind bars, but that could change if a federal suit is successful.

The class action suit – David R. Snyder v. J. Bradley King, et al., No. 1:10-CV-1019 – filed Monday in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana challenges a state statute allowing for that prohibition. The suit claims the statute not only violates the U.S. and Indiana constitutions but also flies in the face of appellate caselaw holding that voting rights can be restricted only for felony convicts.  

South Bend resident David R. Snyder charges that state officials wrongly removed him from the statewide voter registration list because of a 2008 conviction for Class A misdemeanor battery that led to his two-month incarceration in early 2009. Snyder received a letter from St. Joseph County Clerk Rita Glenn in March 2009 that stated his voter registration was being cancelled immediately pursuant to Indiana Code 3-7-46.

The notice also said that I.C. 3-7-13-4(a) and 3-7-46-1 and -2 allow for his removal from the statewide voter registry, along with the Indiana Election Division’s standard operating procedure VRG 12.1 that states anyone “imprisoned following a conviction of a crime is disfranchised during the person’s imprisonment.”

The lawsuit says that as a result of that voter ineligibility, Snyder was not able to vote in subsequent elections, including a local referendum vote in November 2009 and the May 2010 primary. He filed a written complaint earlier this year with the Indiana Election Division and the county, exhausting what the lawsuit says is the available administrative grievance process.

Pursuing this suit as a class action, Snyder’s attorneys argue that the size of the group is currently unknown and that it could be “so numerous that joinder of all members is impractical.”

Citing the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, the Help America Vote Act of 2002, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the First and 14th amendments, Snyder argues that he was wrongly prevented from being included on the voter rolls. He also raises a state claim that the law violates Article 2, §8 of the Indiana Constitution with a discriminatory and unlawful procedure.

While the Indiana Constitution permits the state to restrict voting of those convicted and imprisoned for any “infamous crime,” the suit explains that the Indiana appellate courts have defined that to be a felony.

The suit asks that the federal court certify Snyder’s class and to issue an injunction preventing state officials from removing those class members from the voter rolls, specifically declaring that the Indiana law provisions are violations of the U.S. Constitution. The suit also asks for the federal court to certify a question to the Indiana Supreme Court: whether the term “infamous crimes” in the state constitution applies to misdemeanors punishable by actual incarceration.

Indianapolis attorney William Groth with Fillenwarth Dennerline Groth & Towe is representing Snyder.

 

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