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Judge OKs settlement in voter-registration class action suit

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A federal judge in Indianapolis on Thursday approved a settlement in a class action lawsuit brought against Indiana relating to state offices not adequately providing public assistance for voter registration.

Approved by U.S. Judge Tanya Walton Pratt, the settlement requires that Indiana implement specific measures to assure tens of thousands of low-income Hoosiers have the opportunity to register to vote at state public assistance offices, as mandated by the National Voter Registration Act.

The settlement comes in Indiana State Conference of the NAACP v. Michael Gargano, et al., No. 1:09-cv-0849, a class action suit filed in July 2009 alleging the state violated federal law because the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration routinely didn’t distribute voter registration applications and offer help to those applying for public assistance – which is required of all state offices.

As a result of that lack of assistance, the lawsuit said tens of thousands of low-income Hoosiers were denied the opportunity to register to vote or update their voting information after moving to a new residence.

The suit was brought by the Indiana State Conference of the NAACP, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, and other national civil rights groups.

Indiana has already started implementing aspects of the settlement prior to this final court approval, and the number of people submitting registration applications through state public assistance offices in recent months has increased substantially. State figures show the monthly average registration applications received has gone from about 100 before the lawsuit filing to about 4,800 now.

Some of the methods being implemented include more uniform signs and posters at state offices advertising the voter registration options and what assistance is available, as well as having statewide and local voting registration coordinators and providing compliance manuals and training to staff. New sign-in procedures are also included, and remedial mailings can be offered to those who don’t register in person at the offices.

Indiana hasn’t been alone in dealing with this issue and court battle. The same voting rights groups have filed many other suits nationwide in recent years, forcing other states to comply with the federal law they’d been disregarding in similar ways.

“We are pleased that Indiana has agreed to resolve this litigation through settlement,” Barbara Bolling, president of the Indiana NAACP, said in a statement. “This is an important step forward to ensuring that all Indiana residents have the opportunity to register to vote and participate in elections in our state.”

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