Indiana News

Civil Rights Group Seeks Changes in Indiana Election Law

GOP rejects Democrat's accusation of effort to suppress minority votes

8/29/2013

Minority voters are going to the General Assembly with long-simmering accusations that officials are trying to discourage them from voting.

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Representative Cherrish Pryor (D-Indianapolis) complains some Marion County precincts changed polling place locations last year with no notice or explanation, often in minority neighborhoods. She charges there's no explanation other than a deliberate effort to hold down minority turnout. Pryor wants legislators to lock in polling places two months before Election Day, and require local governments to specify the reason for making a change.

But Pryor says other practices arouse suspicion as well. Pryor and other Democrats have long contended voter ID laws in Indiana and elsewhere are aimed at discouraging minority votes. Then-Representative William Crawford (D-Indianapolis) was the plaintiff in the lawsuit which unsuccessfully asked the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate such laws.

Representative Kathy Richardson (R-Noblesville) acknowledges Republicans and Democrats have philosophical differences over voter ID and unrestricted absentee voting. She says it's "ridiculous" to suggest a deliberate attempt to discourage minority voters.

 But Richardson says legislators will consider Pryor's proposal to finalize polling places in September and make officials explain relocations -- she says she sees neither harm nor benefit in the change at first glance. She says the one stumbling block could be the cost of an additional proposal, to send notifications directly to voters of any changes.

The Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law says it fielded 800 election complaints from Hoosiers last year. The civil rights group classifies about 100 of the complaints as intimidation, though its examples involve disinformation rather than strongarm tactics -- for instance, a robocall falsely telling people they could vote by phone.

Pryor sees a more direct form of intimidation in reports of police officers at some minority-dominated Marion County precincts. That's often been a sore spot for civil rights groups, who point to histories of police harassment allegations in minority neighborhoods

And Pryor, a Democrat, questions Republicans' motives in limiting the availability of early voting in Marion County. State law requires unanimous approval from bipartisan county election boards to offer early voting anywhere other than the county clerk's office. Pryor says Republicans embraced early voting until President Obama successfully mobilized thousands of early voters en route to carrying Indiana in the 2008 election.

Richardson says the unanimous-consent rule was designed to ensure participation by both parties. She says the flip side of that approach is that if the parties disagree, early voting is limited to the legal minimum.

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