Resource: Common Cause Ind. v. Lawson

By: COVID-Related Election Litigation Tracker

October 15, 2020

Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project

Common Cause Indiana, a nonprofit, non-partisan, public interest group, sued the Indiana Secretary of State, Indiana Election Commission, the Indiana Election Division, four county election officials in their official capacities as county election officials and as representatives of all 280 individual members in their capacity as election officials of Indiana county election boards and boards of elections and registration. In 2019, Indiana enacted Indiana Public Law 278-2019 that amended Indiana election laws ("2019 Amendments") to (1) bar Indiana courts from hearing lawsuits by voters, political parties, candidates for public office, public interest groups, or any other entity (other than a county election board) regarding activities and conditions that create barriers to voting at polling stations and may in effect disenfranchise voters. (2) provide standing to only county election boards to bring lawsuits regarding such barriers, and to require unanimous approval of a county election board for that board to bring a lawsuit. (3) limit lawsuits regarding polling station irregularities to only those that shortened the hours a polling station was open. Consequently the following irregularities, for example, cannot be heard by Indiana courts: inadequate numbers of polling stations, malfunctioning equipment, insufficient ballots, or extraordinarily long wait times. In addition, such barriers and disruptions at polling places fall most heavily on communities of color, resulting in longer lines at polling places in predominantly non-white communities as compared to predominantly white communities. In addition, existing disparities in wealth, transportation, housing, employment, education, and other factors mean voters of color are less likely to be able to bear the burden of delays caused by these longer wait times. Claims that the 2019 Amendments violate the: (1) First and Fourteenth Amendments to U.S. Constitution by (a) removing voters' standing to seek the extension of polling hours at polling locations where they have been disenfranchised; (b) limiting claims of voting irregularities to only those regarding late openings of polling stations and closings of polling stations, and not providing redress for other polling station irregularities such as malfunctioning equipment or voting machines, insufficient ballots, or extraordinarily long wait times to vote, etc., (c) requiring unanimous vote of “the entire membership” of a county board, thus providing no means for a polling location’s hours to be extended if even a single member of a relevant county board is absent, unreachable, or unwilling to protect his or her constituents’ fundamental right to vote, and (d) disenfranchising voters with no legitimate state interest in the changes effected by the 2019 Amendments individually, nor in their combined effect. (2) Procedural Due Process under Fourteenth Amendment to U.S. Constitution by depriving a citizen’s constitutionally protected liberty or property interest without a constitutionally adequate due process. Procedural due process requires that “wielders of governmental power must be subject to the limits of law, and . . . the applicable limits should be determined, not by those institutions whose authority is in question, but by an impartial judiciary.” (3) Supremacy Clause of Article VI, clause 2 of U.S. Constitution by removing the right of voters, political parties, candidates for public office, public interest groups, or any other entity (other than county election boards) to petition Indiana courts to consider constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that seek prospective injunctive relief in the form of an extension of polling-place hours.