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Elected official loses appeal in voter registration removal

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A Roseland Town Council member couldn’t convince the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that a District judge was incorrect in dismissing his lawsuit filed after he was removed from the voter registration list while incarcerated.

“This case is about small town politics, a bare-knuckle brawl, and the right to vote. But the appeal before us is limited to drier subjects: sovereign immunity, and the pleading requirements for a civil rights action against a Municipality,” Judge Michael Kanne wrote in the opening paragraph of David R. Snyder v. J. Bradley King, Trent Deckard, Linda Silcott and Pam Brunette, 13-1899.

David Snyder was a town councilman when he got into a fist fight with a fellow councilman in 2007 during a council meeting. He was convicted of misdemeanor battery and was put on probation. He violated the terms of his probation a year later and was incarcerated for a period of time. While incarcerated, St. Joseph County Voter Registration Board members Linda Silcott and Pam Brunette, sent him a letter saying he would be removed from the voter registration list while imprisoned.

Snyder was free to re-register after getting out of jail, but declined to do so. When he was turned away from a special election in 2009, he filed this lawsuit against Silcott and Brunette, along with J. Bradley King and Trent Deckard in their official capacities as co-directors of the Indiana Election Division. The lawsuit led to the Indiana Supreme Court answering a certified question as to whether misdemeanor battery is an “infamous crime” under Article II, Section 8 of the Indiana Constitution.

The Indiana Supreme Court agreed that Snyder’s disenfranchisement was not authorized under the particular provision at issue, but held that the Indiana Constitution separately authorized the assembly to temporarily disenfranchise any incarcerated convict. Judge William Lawrence then dismissed the case, citing in part Monell v. Dept. of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 358 (1978).

“We acknowledge that the right to vote is fundamental, and we do not take any case alleging its infringement lightly. But it is incumbent on a litigant to identify a proper defendant for his suit and to properly plead an action against that defendant. Snyder has not done so. Because Snyder has waived any challenge to the dismissal of the State Defendants, and because he has failed to state a claim against the County defendants, we affirm the district court’s dismissal of his suit,” Kanne wrote.

Chief Judge Diane Wood concurred in result, writing the reason Synder fails is not because a claim against the county was impossible under the state and county laws governing voter registration, it is because he failed to plead the correct causes of action.
 

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