Judge Sarah Evans Barker

A federal judge Thursday rejected Attorney General Curtis Hill’s attempt to unravel the consent decree reached earlier this summer requiring Marion County to establish satellite voting sites in November and in future elections.

Senior Judge Sarah Evans Barker said Hill’s objections to the consent decree reached between the county election board and Common Cause of Indiana and the local branch of the NAACP are without merit.

Common Cause and the NAACP sued last year to require Marion County to provide more than one location for voters to cast ballots in advance of the election. The consent decree requires the election board to have six satellite voting sites in November.

A final decree, signed off on by all parties and approved by Barker in July, requires the county to have two satellite sites in the primary and five in the general election in future years.

Marion County, which is majority Democratic, was the only county in central Indiana to have only one early voting site, prompting the voting rights lawsuit. The other counties are majority Republican.

Earlier Thursday, Indiana Solicitor General Thomas M. Fisher faced the media to defend the widely criticized decision of his embattled boss, Hill, to jump into the voting case.

“Our goal is rather routine,” Fisher said. “It is to defend the application of Indiana statutes as written.”

Fisher maintained the consent decree binds future election boards to the agreement. State law requires county election boards to unanimously approve satellite voting sites and the lone Republican member of the Marion County election board had, until the lawsuit, refused to approve it.

Noting that the state had argued that it is against the public interest to enforce a consent decree dictating how local elections are run, Barker said, “That is not a cogent objection; it is the expression of a preference by the Attorney General for noninterference in voting rights cases generally.”

She added that violations of federal rights justify the imposition of federal remedies.

Julia Vaughn, policy director of Common Cause of Indiana, and Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson, the state’s top election official, both blasted Hill’s action.

Vaughn said in a statement that Hill’s motion should be dismissed because it has no merit.

“The Attorney General is trying to disrupt a bipartisan agreement reached after months of negotiations,” she said.  “He is wasting taxpayer money on a partisan political fight.”

Lawson, whose name is on the court papers Hill’s team filed Tuesday, sharply criticized the attorney general for interfering in the case and for not notifying her that he was filing a motion to unravel the consent decree.

Fisher never directly answered questions about why Lawson’s office was never notified, except to say she was dropped as a defendant in the case last year.

A spokesman for Hill’s office said the attorney general will appeal Barker’s order to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Hill, meanwhile, is being investigated by the state’s inspector general and a special prosecutor on charges that he groped four women at a downtown Indianapolis bar at the end of the 2018 regular session in March. State House and Senate leaders of both political parties as well as Gov. Eric Holcomb have called for Hill to resign. Hill has refused and denies any wrongdoing.

Janet Williams is executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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