October 21, 2008

A Special Form of Evil: Voter Suppression in Indiana

Hat Tip Blue Indiana

In Lake County Indiana, where 40% of the county's population live in the cities of Gary, Hammond and East Chicago and is heavily minority, the Lake County GOP is engaged in what I would fairly term naked voter suppression. They are battling in court the opening of early voting locations at the county clerks office in each of these cities. Currently, to early vote, you must go to Crown Point, located in the middle of Lake County and about a one hour roundtrip from these cities, which are located in the northwest corner of the county. The objective of the Lake County GOP and by extension the Indiana GOP (since they are not stopping it) is less voting. They are not interested in every eligible voter casting their vote UNLESS that voter is voting GOP. If they are not, then they want to suppress that vote. Consider the following:

When the Lake County early voting fiasco first developed, the GOP lawyers and representatives took the tact that they weren't upset about early voting being extended to county offices in the northern, poorer portions of the county -- they just wanted to make sure that everyone got that opportunity. To wit:
Republican attorney David Brooks of Indianapolis law firm Brooks Koch & Sorg argued allowing Lake County to open satellite offices would be unfair.

"The implication here is that citizens in Gary, Hammond and East Chicago -- heavily Democratic areas -- have some right citizens in Hamilton County, for instance -- a heavily Republican area -- do not," Brooks said.

Now, after two weeks of legal maneuvering, the case is in a Superior Court. The judge asked a simple, reasonable question yesterday: What if we allowed these vote sites to stay open, and allow you to open additional ones in more suburban areas?
She explored with LaSota whether to open even more early in-person voting centers in suburban communities in response to Republican complaints Democrats have opened voting in the county's three largest Democratic strongholds.

However, R. Lawrence Steele, a GOP lawyer, told the judge they don't want more early voting centers open, they want Gary, Hammond and East Chicago's centers closed.

Kavadias-Schneider asked, "What of those who have already voted?" Steele said, "Maybe those votes should be discarded."

Compassionate conservatism? Change versus more of the same? Or perhaps we really should look into this pro-America, anti-America line of thinking.

These guys care about nothing more than making it extremely difficult for people to vote -- especially if you don't work regular hours, don't happen to have a car, or perhaps just don't happen to have three hours to kill on a Tuesday, standing in cold lines in November. And on top of it all, they apparently are fine with tossing a few thousand votes just days before the election.

Absolutely, inexcusably despicable.

For the history of this ongoing voter suppression issue, see below:

Under Indiana election law, early voting can only take place in a county clerk's main office. In areas where the county seat is far in distance from the most heavily populated parts of the county, this is a problem. Therefore, the law gives each board of elections the authority to approve sattellite early voting centers elsewhere in their county. In Lake County, the county clerk's main office is located in The county seat, Crown Point, the 7th most populous city in the county (pop. 24,000) and located in the middle of the county.

Meanwhile, three of the four biggest municipalities -- Gary (pop. 96,000), Hammond (pop. 77,000), and East Chicago (pop. 30,000) are all located at the northern edge of the county, along Lake Michigan. Together, these towns hold more than 40 percent of the county's residents. Moreover, Gary and Hammond are the fifth and sixth largest cities in the state. It is about one hour roundtrip from any of these cities to the county seat in Crown Point.

Democratic Party members of the Lake County Board of Elections attempted to open one satellite office in each city at their county clerks office.
  • After the Lake County Election Board voted 3-2 to allow early voting at additional sites in the northern portion of the county, the Republicans sought to receive a temporary restraining order.
  • Indiana Code requires appeal to be filed in the circuit court, but the Republicans instead filed their challenge in the Lake Superior Court to avoid a Democratic judge presiding over the circuit.
  • The Lake County Election Board immediately moved to have the issue transfered to federal court.
  • Judge Hawkins granted the restraining order.
  • Judge Van Bokkelen, the federal judge (and Bush appointee) who received the case called a hearing Friday afternoon and vacated the state court's decision, recessing the hearing until the coming Thursday.
  • Van Bokkelen remanded the case to Lake Superior Court Judge Calvin Hawkins, who earlier ruled Oct. 3 on behalf of Republicans by temporarily stopping early voting in the Democratic strongholds.
  • Lake County Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Arredondo ordered early voting locations opened immediately Tuesday morning in Gary, Hammond and East Chicago.
  • Sally LaSota, director of the county Election Office, said at 10:30 a.m. that she would act as quickly as possible to comply with Arredondo's order.
  • Lake Superior Court Judge Calvin Hawkins, who has previously issued a rule blocking the early voting sites from opening, will hold a hearing on the issue at 1 p.m.
  • Attorneys representing the Lake County Republican Party, which opposes opening the early voting sites in the three Democratic strongholds, announced Tuesday morning they would file a motion asking the Indiana Supreme Court to consider a request to dismiss the case on which Arredondo ruled.
  • Update - Oct. 17, 2008 The Indiana Supreme Court on Thursday 10/16/08 appointed Superior Court Judge Diane Kavadias Schneider to take the reigns of Lake County's early voting controversy.Attorneys in the case will meet via conference call this morning and request a hearing on a motion by Republican Party attorneys to close satellite voting sites in Gary, Hammond and East Chicago, according to Schneider's clerk.