Judge Rejects Hill Attempt to Reopen Deal on Satellite Voting in Marion County
(INDIANAPOLIS) - A federal judge has brought a quick end to Attorney General Curtis Hill's bid to block a settlement expanding satellite voting in Marion County.
Solicitor General Tom Fisher argued a consent decree to add at least five early-voting locations should be revised because it wasn't approved unanimously, and makes a commitment to satellite voting beyond this year when state law requires those decisions to be made annually. Judge Sarah Evans Barker says the contention the board wasn't unanimous is simply incorrect -- all three members approved the agreement, individually and as a group, and have followed up with unanimous votes on steps to carry it out.
And Barker says even if they hadn't, Hill and Fisher are incorrect in arguing the agreement must be changed because it contradicts state law. Barker notes federal law trumps state law in voting-rights cases, and notes the federal court got involved in the first place because it found those rights were being violated.
Barker had issued a preliminary injunction earlier this year ordering more voting locations, after a lawsuit by Common Cause and the NAACP contended the lack of satellite locations disproportionately harmed minority voters. The agreement with the Marion County Election Board sett;ed that lawsuit. The county will add six early voting locations this year, one more than the settlement requires. Beginning next year, it promises a minimum of two satellite voting locations for primaries and five for general elections, but leaves it to the board to decide where the voting sites should be, setting only general guidelines.
Hill's request to intervene had already drawn a blunt reply from Secretary of State Connie Lawson, who was dismissed as a defendant in the lawsuit last year. In a statement, Lawson blasted Hill's intervention as "reckless" and urged him to drop it. And she complains as the state's chief elections officer, it would have been "professional courtesy" for Hill to notify her of his plans.
Fisher says there was no need to. He says Hill's client in this instance isn't Lawson, but the people of the state. He describes the intervention as "routine" in a case involving a conflict with state law.
Hill immediately filed an appeal with the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, though Barker dryly declared "the grounds for an appeal in a case involving no statute or act of the state remain obscure to us."
Indiana law requires election boards to vote unanimously to create satellite voting. Marion County Republicans joined in approving satellite voting in 2008 but had blocked it ever since.
Hill himself didn't appear at a news conference explaining the reasons for the challenge.
Attorney General Curtis Hill (Photo: Eric Berman/WIBC)