Consent decree gives Marion County more early voting sites

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The Marion County Election Board has agreed to open five additional satellite locations for early in-person voting starting with the 2018 general election, settling a lawsuit brought in 2017 by Common Cause Indiana and the NAACP.

Senior judge Sarah Evans Barker of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana signed on Tuesday a consent decree offered by the plaintiffs and defendants.

  The parties filed the joint motion after the court granted a preliminary injunction in April in Common Cause Indiana, et al. v. Marion County Election Board, et al., 1:17-cv-1388. For that ruling, Barker found Common Cause and the NAACP showed the Election Board’s failure to open early voting centers severely burdened the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of Marion County voters.

Common Cause and the NAACP said the approval of the consent decree brings their litigation to an end.

“For too long, Marion County voters had second class access to early voting and this lack of access had a disproportionate impact on African-American voters,” said Chrystal Ratcliffe, president of Indianapolis NAACP Branch 3053. “Voter suppression efforts like this have no place in our county and we are proud to have been part of the effort to expand voting access.”

Under the terms of the consent decree, the Election Board must establish a minimum two satellite early voting centers for each primary election and five satellite early voting sites for each general and municipal elections starting in 2018. The five early voting sites are in addition to the voting center at the clerk’s office in the City-County Building in downtown Indianapolis.

The board will retain discretion in selecting the locations and determining the operating hours of the satellite centers. However, when selecting a site, it must consider the location, the cost for using the location, access to public transportation, population, historical voter turnout data and staffing needs.

Julia Vaughn, policy director of Common Cause Indiana, applauded the Barker’s order, calling it a “big win” for voters in the community.

“We brought this lawsuit because Marion County voters deserve the same access to early voting as voters in neighboring counties,” Vaughn said. “We are pleased that the Election Board is willing to go beyond what Judge Barker orders and instead of having only two additional satellite locations, the number will increase to five.”

The plaintiffs do retain their right to enforce the consent decree. Also, Common Cause and the NAACP can petition the court if the board does not establish the satellite voting locations or if the plaintiffs can prove the selected sites are continuing to disadvantage voters.

“We’ll be working hard in the coming months to ensure that all voters who want to case an early in-person ballot understand the City-County Building is no longer the only option available,” Ratcliffe said.  

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