Judge rejects Hill’s bid to halt Marion County early voting

A motion filed by Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill to amend a consent decree establishing multiple early voting sites in Marion County for the upcoming November general election has been denied. Indiana Southern District Senior Judge Sarah Evans Barker wrote the state’s objections have no merit.

Hill’s office filed its challenge to the consent decree  entered in Common Cause Indiana, et al. v. Marion County Election Board, et al., 1:17-cv-01388, on Tuesday. Hill alleged the decree violates Indiana law because the election board did not unanimously approve the agreement. He cited to Indiana code section 3-11-10-26.5, which allows county election boards to establish satellite absentee voting sites if the board votes to do so unanimously.

Hill’s office also argued “it is not in the public interest for a federal court to enter, enforce, and monitor a consent decree that dictates the operation of state-run elections.” Further, the AG’s office said the public interest is “jeopardized by the removal of (Defendant Election Board’s) minority leverage in the political process.”

“Neither objection has merit,” Barker wrote in a Thursday order.

“The consent decree was tendered jointly by all parties, that is, by all Plaintiffs and all Defendants, who are the Election Board ‘and its three members in their official capacities,’” she wrote. “If this were not enough (though it is), Defendants have responded in opposition to the State’s motion by showing the ‘additional steps’ Defendants have taken in unanimous support of the consent decree, … including unanimous official ratification of the consent decree by Defendant Election Board.”

“And even if all this were not true (though it is),” Barker continued, “the consent decree was necessary to remedy a probable violation of federal law for the reasons laid out in our order on Plaintiffs’ preliminary injunction motion.

Regarding the state’s public policy argument, Barker said such an argument was not a cogent objection to the consent decree, but instead was “the expression of a preference by the Attorney General for federal noninterference in voting rights cases generally.”

“The State’s lawyers may entertain what preferences they will, but violations of federal rights justify the imposition of federal remedies,” she wrote, noting that the consent decree could be changed only if the agreed-upon remedies become no longer justified.

“… But to the extent the State wishes to protect the interests of ‘both political parties,’ ‘bipartisan support,’ and ‘the ability (of all members of the Election Board) to be heard’ with respect to early in-person voting at satellite offices, … the consent decree is the product of precisely that, as we have explained,” she said.

Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson, who oversees all state elections, hit back at Hill on Wednesday, saying she was not consulted before he filed his “reckless” motion to block the consent decree. Hill defended his office’s decision in a Wednesday statement, then held a press conference on Thursday, where Solicitor General Thomas M. Fisher announced the office would appeal the consent decree to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

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