Judge orders Marion County to open more early-voting sites

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INDIANAPOLIS — A federal judge hearing a case about alleged voter suppression has ordered county officials in central Indiana to open several locations for voters to cast early ballots for November’s general election.

Judge Sarah Evans Barker’s ruling this week came after she issued an injunction three months ago ending what critics call an effort to suppress voting in Democratic-leaning Marion County, which includes Indianapolis, the Indianapolis Business Journal reported .

Barker ruled in April that the Marion County Election Board must establish at least two satellite voting sites for future elections. But she raised the number this week to a minimum of five satellite early voting locations.

The election board will have discretion to choose the locations and operating hours of the offices, according to this week’s ruling.

Government watchdog group Common Cause Indiana and the NAACP sued the election board for effectively disenfranchising local voters. The county had as many as three satellite offices for early in-person voting in 2008-09, but the board removed the sites in subsequent elections “despite available funding,” according to Barker’s ruling this week.

Residents since 2009 could only cast early ballots in the County Clerk’s Office at the City-County building, which Barker’s ruling said has “little or no free parking” and can take hours to reach by public transportation.

The lack of satellite voting locations “disproportionately impacted African-American voters in Marion County, and that this disproportionate burden was, in part, caused by or linked to social and historical conditions that have or currently produce discrimination against African-American voters,” the ruling stated.

The plaintiffs said the ruling is big win for voters in the community.

“Voter suppression efforts like this have no place in our county and we are proud to have been part of the effort to expand voting access,” said Chrystal Ratcliffe, president of Indianapolis NAACP branch. “We’ll be working hard in the coming months to ensure that all voters who want to cast an early in-person ballot understand that the City-County building is no longer the only option available.”