Attorney General taking fight against early voting consent decree to 7th Circuit

In defending the Indiana Attorney General’s objection to an agreement about early voting, Indiana Solicitor General Thomas M. Fisher said the action is “rather routine” and the office would be submitting additional filings to the courts, including an appeal to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.    

Fisher spoke during a press conference Thursday at the attorney general’s office. The public comments come two days after the attorney general filed a motion to alter or amend the consent decree establishing five early voting sites in Marion County for the November election.

“Our goal in the case is not to block early satellite voting offices when they are authorized by a unanimous vote of the Marion County Election Board,” Fisher said. “To the contrary, our goal is rather routine. It is to defend the application of Indiana statutes as written.”

However, parties to the consent decree were angered by the AG’s attempt to intervene in the agreement.

The Marion County Election Board told the court that Hill’s motion was “factually incorrect” and could have “disruptive implications.” Also, Secretary of State Connie Lawson urged Hill to drop the matter, saying his action “does not reflect the will of the Marion County voters.”

Common Cause Indiana and the Indianapolis branch of the NAACP, which filed the original lawsuit alleging Marion County’s lack of early voting sites violated the Constitution, accused Hill of engaging in a wasteful and partisan effort to deny Marion County voters access to early voting.

The attorney general is pressing his case. Fisher said the attorney general’s office would be filing a short memorandum Thursday in federal court supporting its motion. In addition, the office will appeal the consent decree to the 7th Circuit.   

Fisher did take a different stance in explaining why the attorney general’s office was objecting to the settlement agreement between Common Cause, NAACP and the election board.

In its court filing, the attorney general asserted the Marion County Election Board was not unanimous in its support of the consent decree, which would violate the state law’s unanimity requirement. But the Marion County Election Board, Common Cause, NAACP and the Secretary of State all pointed out that every member of the election board voted in favor of the agreement for more early voting sites.

Fisher highlighted the “indefinite nature” of the consent decree. He said the agreement’s provision mandating the number of early voting precincts for the November election and all subsequent elections going forward is contrary to state statute.

“Indiana law requires not only unanimity on the board to establish satellite early voting offices, but also says that any resolution authorizing those early voting offices expires at the end of the calendar year,” Fisher said.

He later explained that the board seems to be binding itself going forward as opposed to abiding by the statute, which says any resolution authorizing these precincts expires at the end of the year. This, Fisher continued, enables the board to evaluate the situation as new members join and new considerations arise.

Asked specifically if the attorney general was challenging the unanimity of the board’s vote, Fisher said the record indicates only a majority of the board agreed.

“We’ll let the record speak for itself, but I think part of the question is, if indeed they are unanimous, they need to demonstrate that properly and in a timely way,” he said.

Fisher also defended the attorney general’s office decision not to notify Lawson in advance of the motion being filed. Lawson, noting she is the chief election officer in Indiana, said Hill did not have the “professional courtesy” to give her notice.

“There was no call for that,” Fisher said. “This is a case we’ve been involved in for some time and it is a case that really is quite routine in what we’re doing, and the objections we are making are in line with all the arguments we made in every situation where state law is attacked.”

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