Federal appeals court upholds Indiana law limiting challenges to polling station hours
28.10.2020 | Thomas DeLorenzo | U. Pittsburgh School of Law, US OCTOBER 27, 2020 07:48:29 PM | 75
The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit Court has reversed a lower court’s decision that an Indiana law prohibiting anyone except county boards of elections from petitioning to extend polling hours was unconstitutional.
In 2019 the Republican-dominated Indiana legislature amended the state elections statute and limited all polling stations in the state to 12 hours of operation between 6:00 AM and 6:00 PM on Election Day. In addition, a new section of the law limited the ability to seek extensions of polling hours solely to county elections boards, preventing civil rights groups, local and state government officials, and private citizens from challenging the limitations. The law also permits only a unanimous election board to request an extension, effectively allowing a single dissenting councilperson to thwart any attempts to extend polling times beyond the early evening. Voting rights group Common Cause sued to block the law in July, arguing that the law effectively disenfranchised thousands of voters who work during the day and could not make it to a polling station before their early closure. On September 22, the district court granted a preliminary injunction to Common Cause and blocked the law.
In an unsigned opinion Friday, the three appeals court judges, all of whom were appointed by Republican presidents, reversed the injunction. According to the opinion, Indiana’s law does not violate the constitutional right to vote or due process protections because the law does not “substantially burden” voters by only removing private causes of action. In theory, according to the court, voters who might be disenfranchised by the limited polling hours could petition their local elections board for an extension or bring a suit after the election against state officials under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act. These public actions provide “ample recourse” to voters who are unable to cast a ballot during the state’s strict polling times. The judges did not explain how a lawsuit undertaken after an election would provide a remedy for disenfranchisement in that election in the short, 12-page opinion.
Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill, a Republican, lauded the decision in a press release, saying that the decision was another example of “federal appeals courts nationwide recognizing states’ legitimate authority to enact and enforce reasonable election laws.”