Indiana Voter ID Law Emerges as a Significant Issue; Scattered Problems Reported Throughout Both Primary States

WASHINGTON, DC — As polls closed across both North Carolina and Indiana last night, the Election Protection Coalition reported receiving nearly 800 calls to the Voter Protection Hotline throughout the day. Election Protection and its diverse group of partners, which comprises the nation’s largest nonpartisan voter protection coalition, responded to voting problems through a comprehensive voter protection program. Nearly 100 citizen and legal volunteers answered calls on the 1-866-OUR-VOTE Hotline and monitored polling places throughout both primary states.

Jonah Goldman, director of the National Campaign for Fair Elections of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Right’s Voting Rights Project said, “As this historic primary season has progressed, record numbers of voters have turned out to exercise their fundamental right to vote. It is unfortunate, however, that many of these eligible voters were disenfranchised and unable to cast a ballot. In state after state, including both North Carolina and Indiana, we’ve seen eligible voters lose their right to vote because of poorly trained poll workers, problems with voting machines and inaccurate voter registration rolls.”

“Today, Election Protection volunteers spoke to thousands of voters. We protected voting rights by answering questions, resolving problems, and advocating on behalf of voters. We learned that students, elderly persons, women, persons of color and even nuns are at risk of disenfranchisement,” said Myrna Perez, counsel at the Brennan Center.

One of the most closely watched issues going into the primaries today was Indiana’s photo identification law, requiring voters to present a government issued ID before casting a vote. Election Protection received a significant number of calls and complaints regarding the law, which was recently upheld by the US Supreme Court. In one example, a freshman student at St. Mary’s College in South Bend, Indiana, called the coalition hotline after she was denied the right to vote because she only possessed an ID from a private college. The poll workers, nuns at a local convent, were trying to help the young student through her problem. While doing so, and prior to the student’s incident, they realized that some of their fellow nuns were also prevented from voting because of Indiana’s restrictive photo identification law. In fact, they later realized that several floors of retired nuns in their convent would not be able to vote in the Indiana Primary Election.

“I saw many instances throughout the day where people were not able to vote because of confusion about Indiana’s photo ID law, both among voters and poll workers,” said John Borkowski, Esquire, a partner at law firm Hogan & Hartson and Lawyers’ Committee board member who witnessed this incident firsthand. “The law definitely had the effect of preventing many people who were highly motivated to participate in this primary election from exercising their right to vote. It seems very ironic to me that a law intended to prevent voter fraud prevented members of a single community, essentially a family, who have lived together for years, from accepting the votes of their own sisters.”

Confusion about voter ID requirements in Indiana threatened to prevent a registered member of the military from voting-a caller reported to Election Protection that poll workers refused to accept his current U.S. Military ID, claiming that it was insufficient identification. Fortunately, the caller was able to speak with a precinct judge who corrected the poll workers.

Students also experienced problems in both states. In Indiana, students at Purdue University weren’t able to use their state-issued photo IDs to vote because the cards lack an expiration date, while in North Carolina multiple students who had registered by the deadline were still denied the right to vote.

(Editor’s note: Purdue students were permitted to use their University issued student ID cards at *select* polling places, and the polling places were published in all of the campus publications and on local tv news, radio, and off campus newspapers.)

Problems emerged with absentee ballots as well. Voters at a nursing home in Hancock County, Indiana received incorrect absentee ballots-residents who had requested Democratic ballots received Republican ballots, and vice versa.

Other Indiana incidents include:

  • Multiple reports of voting machine problems, including from a school teacher who had to leave without casting a ballot because he had to get to school before classes started. Some voters were not offered paper ballots when machines went down, and countless voters left without casting a ballot.
  • A voter, previously convicted of a misdemeanor, was prevented from voting by a poll worker. Election Protection provided him with the code provision which dictates that only those convicted of a felony and those incarcerated cannot vote.

The Lawyers’ Committee, along with primary May 6 partners, Democracy North Carolina, the Brennan Center for Justice and NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and other partners across both states recruited, trained and deployed legal volunteers to help voters at the polls, in the courts and through the 1-866- OUR-VOTE Hotline. As Election Protection’s interim report on previous primaries across the country this election year suggests, the infrastructure that supports the nation’s election system often breaks down preventing countless eligible voters from accessing their right to vote.

For more information about Election Protection and the 1-866-OUR-VOTE and Hotline, or to read the Lawyers’ Committee’s report, please visit www.866ourvote.org.

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