A federal judge blocked a law unique to Indiana that prevents voters from asking courts to extend voting hours beyond the state’s 6 p.m. closing time because of Election Day troubles.
The judge’s preliminary injunction issued Tuesday blocks a law passed last year by Indiana’s Republican-dominated Legislature. The law prohibits anyone other than a county election board, which oversee voting matters, from requesting court orders to extend voting hours.
It comes as county election officials are preparing coronavirus precautions for in-person voting on Nov. 3 while handling an expected surge in mail-in ballots.
The lawsuit, filed in July by the voting rights group Common Cause Indiana, objected to provisions that allow judges to keep polling sites open only if they were shut down, and preventing them from considering situations such as malfunctioning equipment, insufficient ballots or long wait times.
U.S. District Judge Richard Young cited instances during the November 2018 elections where county judges extended voting hours because of ballot shortages and equipment troubles.
“While there is no difference between disenfranchisement caused when a polling location is physically closed and when one is open but without functioning machines or ballots, the (law) limits relief to the former,” Young wrote. “A voter facing one of the other barriers is simply out of luck.”
Young also wrote that the state attorney general’s office gave little justification in defending the law.
“The State may not simply invoke the phrase ‘election integrity’ without further explanation,” the judge said.
The state attorney general’s office didn’t immediately comment Thursday on the decision.
A lawyer who represented Common Cause said Indiana was the only state that has adopted such a law.
“This decision is particularly important for the voting rights of Black and Latino citizens — who are the most affected by polling place closures, long lines and equipment malfunctions,” said Ami Gandhi of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.
Young’s ruling comes after another federal judge last month struck down Indiana’s process of rejecting absentee ballots because of differing voter signatures, since the process didn’t require voters to be told about such decisions or offer a way to contest them.
In another case, a judge rejected an attempt to force Indiana election officials to allow all voters to cast their ballots by mail because of the coronavirus pandemic. Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and other GOP leaders have turned aside calls from Democrats and others to lift Indiana’s mail-in voting limits, which allow people to vote by mail only if they fall into one of several categories, including being 65 or older or being absent from their home counties on Election Day.