An Indiana man is challenging a new state law that bars certain convicted sex offenders from entering schools, arguing it can impair the right to vote.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a federal class-action lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of Brian Keith Valenti of Hartford City. It says the law that took effect July 1 prevents sex offenders from voting in person when their polling places are located in schools.
Schoolchildren aren't permitted in polling areas unless accompanied by adult voters, the lawsuit said.
Valenti and others like him have the option of voting absentee by mail, but that is an onerous process that, among other things, requires submitting a separate application before a deadline and does not provide the help that people voting in-person can receive from election workers, the lawsuit said.
“The in-person act of voting is something that Mr. Valenti feels is valuable in and of itself. He views voting in person on Election Day as a celebration of his right to vote and is something that should be shared publicly with his community. Voting absentee by mail is a poor substitute,” the lawsuit said.
Valenti was convicted in 1993 of engaging in lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14 in 1988 in California, the lawsuit said, and he has not been convicted of any other sex offenses against children. He moved last year to Hartford City, about 45 miles south of Fort Wayne, where he has family.
The number of sex offenders affected by the law is unknown “but is believed to be large,” the lawsuit said. For example, in Indiana’s two most populous counties, 34 percent of Marion County polling precincts are located in schools, as are 24 percent of the polling places in Lake County, it said.
The lawsuit seeks to have the new law declared unconstitutional.
“The right to vote is fundamental in a democracy,” said Jan Mensz, an ACLU of Indiana staff attorney. “Therefore, any attempt to impinge on that right must be justified by sufficiently weighty government interests. This statute does not meet that test.”
The Indiana Attorney General’s Office will review the lawsuit and file a response in court, spokesman Bryan Corbin said.
The (Muncie) Star Press reported Valenti and the ACLU filed another federal lawsuit in March challenging the legality of a Hartford City ordinance concerning “child safety zones.” That complaint alleges the ordinance prevents Valenti from taking his child to the local library or area parks, visiting her school or attending church.