Lawyers for inmates of the Allen County Jail and for the sheriff conferred in federal court Tuesday as a lawsuit proceeds alleging detainees were denied their right to vote.
A first amended complaint filed Tuesday seeks a class action, and attorneys met before Judge Theresa Springmann for a preliminary pretrial conference in the District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Fort Wayne Division.
The suit alleges Sheriff David Gladieux “systematically disenfranchised hundreds of eligible voters held in the Allen County Jail during the 2016 general election by refusing to provide them absentee ballots or alternative access to the polls.”
The suit, Demetrius Buroff and Ian Barnhart v. David Gladieux, 1:17-cv-124, claims violation of the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment. Both were pretrial detainees on Election Day, the suit says, without felony convictions and eligible to vote.
Court records show Demetrius Buroff pleaded guilty in mid-November to Class A misdemeanor resisting law enforcement, and two other misdemeanor counts were dismissed. Ian Barnhart was charged with felony operating while intoxicated and pleaded guilty in March.
The suit, filed by Fort Wayne attorney David Frank of the Christopher C. Meyers & Associates law firm, alleges 600 to 700 people are in the Allen County Jail at any given time, and potentially hundreds of people in jail on Election Day were eligible to vote but were unable to.
Frank said detainees and inmates who haven’t been convicted of a felony have the right to vote. He said the Allen County Jail “completely denied absentee ballots to detainees during the November election and disenfranchised them in violation of their fundamental right to vote.”
Gladieux did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment, but John Feighner, who with Spencer Feighner of Haller & Colvin in Fort Wayne represents the sheriff, said it’s too early to discuss the merits of the case.
“The sheriff will defend the issues in the case, and the sheriff had a longstanding policy that inmates may vote absentee ballot,” John Feighner said. “There have been inmates in the past who asked for absentee ballots and they have been provided, in my recollection.”
He said issues of eligibility and whether detainees requested absentee ballots are among issues to be explored in discovery.