Resource: Frederick et al v. Lawson et al

By: COVID-Related Election Litigation Tracker

September 1, 2020

Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project

Indiana law statutorily provides a right to vote absentee to certain groups of voters. In order to vote absentee, voters must submit an application for an absentee ballot affixed with a signature. A signature on an affidavit attached to the final absentee ballot must match this first signature, as determined by the county election boards. Non-matching signatures result in rejected ballots. Voters whose ballots are rejected are able to vote in person on the day of the election but they are never notified that their ballot has been rejected. There is no procedure to contest a rejection. No standards or guidelines inform the county board officials making the signature determinations and no training is provided to them. Expert testimony in the case suggested that untrained individuals are not good at making determinations as to the genuineness of signatures when comparing two. Plaintiffs brought claims for violations of both procedural due process and equal protection violations. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the court held in favor of the plaintiffs on both issues. The court found a procedural due process violation under the Mathews test, identifying an interest in voting absentee once such a right is statutorily granted. While data showed that the risk of erroneous deprivation of this interest due to the signature requirement was not high, the court stated that the risk was real and that the value of additional procedures to prevent disenfranchisement was high. A state interest in preventing fraud and maintaining electoral integrity was important but was actually supported by providing a notice and opportunity to cure to voters whose ballots were rejected. The court did not hold that the administrative and fiscal burden of additional safeguards was undue. Turning to the equal protection claim even though all desired relief was sufficiently granted by the court's determination on the due process claim, the court utilized the Anderson-Burdick test to find an equal protection violation. The court identified the injury of erroneous deprivation of the right to vote without notice or the opportunity to cure as a significant burden even though it affected only a few people. Again the interests articulated by the government failed to justify this burden because the government's interest was actually supported by procedures that would diminish the burden and because the currently administered process did not prevent arbitrary administration.