Lawsuit challenges Indiana limits on voting time extensions

An Indiana law violates the U.S. Constitution by blocking voters and candidates from asking courts to keep polling places open past the state’s 6 p.m. closing time because of Election Day troubles, a voting rights group argued in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

The law passed by Indiana’s Republican-dominated Legislature in 2019 prevents anyone other than a county election board, which oversee voting matters, from requesting court orders to extend voting hours.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Indianapolis on behalf of Common Cause Indiana cites equipment troubles, delays in opening polling sites and ballot shortages during the November 2018 elections in Johnson, Porter and Monroe counties. It argues that the state law wrongly thwarts voters and political parties from protecting the right to vote.

“Shutting the courthouse doors to voters and erecting a multi-step process to obtain an extension of polling-place hours to correct irregularities places a severe and unconstitutional burden on all Indiana voters,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit asks that a judge issue an order before this November’s election blocking the state law from being enforced.

The state attorney general’s office didn’t immediately comment on the lawsuit. The law’s author, Republican Sen. Erin Houchin of Salem, said she had not yet seen the lawsuit.

Republican legislators dismissed Democrats’ objections in 2019 to changing the law so only county election boards by unanimous votes could ask judges to extend polling site hours. Most Indiana counties have three-person bipartisan election boards, so a single person from the minority party could block such a request.

The lawsuit also objects to provisions in the law that allow judges to keep polling sites open if they were shut down, and preventing them from considering situations such as malfunctioning equipment, insufficient ballots or long wait times that disrupted voting.

“Indiana is the only state that has tied the voters’ hands in this way,” Julia Vaughn, policy director of Common Cause Indiana, said in a statement. “Our aim is to disrupt what could become a dangerous trend across the country.”

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