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ACLU of Indiana Challenges Marion County Judicial Election System

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Posted: Thursday, November 1, 2012 1:56 pm

Marion County voters have less influence than they may think about which judges are chosen for the Marion Superior Court. Today the ACLU of Indiana, on behalf of Common Cause Indiana, filed a lawsuit challenging state law governing that process to ensure voters of every political stripe can cast meaningful votes for all judgeships to be filled in Marion County.

"The system for electing judges in Marion County is unique in Indiana, and possibly the nation," said ACLU of Indiana Legal Director Ken Falk. "It is imperative that we ensure that when the State opts to fill positions through the ballot box, it does so in a manner that allows Hoosiers' votes to matter."

Under Indiana law, each of the major political parties conducts a primary election at which it selects exactly half of the seats to be filled, which renders the general election a mere formality. Voters in Marion County who do not cast a ballot in the primary election, therefore, have absolutely no say in electing judges to the Marion Superior Court. This process means that even people who do vote in the primary election have a say in only half of the judgeships to be filled.

The U.S. Supreme Court has long held that the right of suffrage is a fundamental matter in a free and democratic society, and that exercising voting rights in an unimpaired manner is preservative of other basic civil and political rights, such as those guaranteed by the First Amendment.

ACLU of Indiana Executive Director Jane Henegar said, "We are especially mindful this close to the General Election that the right to vote is precious. Our democracy is premised on the right of each citizen to have a meaningful vote. Americans should never be forced to muffle their voices in our government for anyone's convenience, least of all for political parties."

Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause Indiana, said change is needed, and her organization hopes that today's action will make that happen: "For too long the party bosses have controlled the judicial selection process in Marion County and denied voters any meaningful role in it. Marion County voters deserve the same opportunities as voters in other counties to elect judges of their choice. The judicial branch, as arbiters of the law, must be above reproach." Common Cause Indiana is the statewide affiliate of a national nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting good government and voting rights.

The case, Common Cause Indiana v. Indiana Secretary of State, was entered in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana in Indianapolis under cause number 1:12-cv-01603-RLY-DML.