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Federal judge certifies state question on misdemeanor voting

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A federal judge in Indianapolis wants the Indiana Supreme Court to decide whether the term “infamous crime” as used in the state constitution applies to misdemeanors and can be used to keep those convicts from voting.

In an order issued Tuesday in David R. Snyder v. J. Bradley King, et. al., No. 1:10-CV-1019, U.S. Judge William T. Lawrence certified a specific question to the state’s justices to answer:

“Does the term ‘infamous crime’ as used in Article II, Section 8, of the Indiana Constitution include conviction of and imprisonment for a misdemeanor battery, so as to permit removal of the convicted person’s voter registration from the official list of registered voters pursuant to Indiana Code §§3-7-13-4 and 3-7-46-1 and -2?”

With this certification order, the federal class-action suit that began in August is stayed until the Indiana Supreme Court reaches a conclusion on that question.

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.

But Snyder alleges the statute not only violates the U.S. and Indiana constitutions, but also flies in the face of Indiana appellate caselaw holding that voting rights can be restricted only for felony convictions. Aside from that state constitutional claim, Snyder also cites in his federal suit violations under 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.

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