Voters Call Indiana Absentee Ballot Law Unconstitutional

INDIANAPOLIS (CN) — Voters are challenging Indiana’s law that governs the process of determining the authenticity of signatures on absentee ballots by claiming that the flawed process has led to valid votes being thrown out.

Common Cause Indiana and four registered voters from St. Joseph County, home to South Bend, filed the 17-page federal lawsuit on Thursday. They want enforcement of the law enjoined because it is “fraught with error and inconsistent application” and provides no reliable standards to verify whether the signature on a mail-in ballot is genuine.

Lead plaintiff Mary J. Fredericks says the law is unconstitutional because there are no requirements to inform voters that their votes have been flagged or not counted.

“Thousands of Indiana voters have had their ballots rejected by elections officials and those voters were never even notified that their votes were not counted,” said Julia Vaughn, policy director of Common Cause Indiana. “Some voters may well have had their ballots rejected for years under this faulty system, and state and county officials have never even bothered to tell those voters that they have been disenfranchised through this unfair and undemocratic system.”

Named as defendants are Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson, the St. Joseph County Election board and its three members.

The signature-verification process is performed by county election officials who look for discrepancies between the signature on the ballot’s envelope and the signature on the voter’s application for the ballot, according to the complaint.

But county election officials receive no training in handwriting analysis, and the comparison is done on a case-by-case judgment call. If a signature is regarded as questionable, the state has no official mechanism that requires a voter be informed of the issue.

The process also discriminates against elderly and disabled voters who may not be able to create identical signatures, according to the complaint.

Lead plaintiff Frederick, 69, says her ballot was rejected. She has Parkinson’s disease and says that her “signature becomes increasingly illegible as the day goes on.”

Frederick says she was never told by a St. Joseph county elections official that her signature was being questioned and that she could have proved that the ballot belonged to her if she had been given the chance.

“This system is deeply flawed, and we trust the court will side with the voters who were wrongly and unknowingly disenfranchised and end this unconstitutional and undemocratic system once and for all,” Common Cause president Karen Flynn said in a statement.

The plaintiffs are represented by William Groth of the Indianapolis law firm of Fillenwarth, Dennerline, Groth & Towe.

The Secretary of State’s Office said it does not comment on pending litigation.

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