Indiana officials settle voter registration lawsuit

Indiana officials have settled a class-action lawsuit that claimed the state wasn't following federal laws over the opportunity for voter registration at public assistance offices.

The settlement approved by a federal judge on Thursday requires that state public assistance agencies offer voter registration to those who apply or update their requests for welfare, food stamps and other benefits.

The Indiana State Conference of the NAACP and other groups filed the lawsuit in 2009, arguing that the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration had not been adhering to the National Voter Registration Act.

Indiana NAACP President Barbara Bolling of Gary said she was pleased state officials had agreed to the settlement terms.

"This is an important step forward to ensuring that all Indiana residents have the opportunity to register to vote and participate in elections in our state," she said.

The state agency has already started implementing the settlement, and the number of people submitting registration applications through public assistance offices in recent months has increased substantially, The Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne.

About 4,800 registration applications are now being submitted each month through those offices, up from about 100 a month before the lawsuit was filed, according to state officials.

"We were already doing it," FSSA spokesman Neal Moore said. "We augmented and made some improvements to the process."

Those include a new manual for employees fully explaining the guidelines, additional training and updating necessary forms.

In the past several years, lawsuits filed by the same voting rights groups have forced other states that had been disregarding the National Voter Registration Act to comply, with sometimes dramatic results.

For example, applications from Missouri public assistance agencies grew from fewer than 8,000 a year to more than 130,000 a year following settlement of a suit in that state two years ago. Almost 290,000 low-income Ohio residents have applied to register since a similar case was settled there at the end of 2009.

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