The Republican war on voting rights in Indiana has been marching inexorably onward to its final destination: a world where the only people who are able to vote in the state are white.
A stunning investigation conducted by the Indianapolis Star reveals that Republicans in Indiana have been engaging in voting chicanery in order to tip the scales in their favor: They have expanded early voting stations in the lily-white suburbs while decreasing the number of early voting stations in Marion County, which has a Black population that is disproportionately high compared with the rest of the state.
And do you know what Black people tend to do that Republicans hate?
Vote for Democrats.
After 2008, when President Barack Obama became the first Democrat to win Indiana since Lyndon B. Johnson carried the state in 1964, Republicans in Indiana got squirrelly, according to the Star. Between 2008 and 2016, they reduced the number of early voting stations from three to one in Marion County, which is where Indianapolis is located. But in Hamilton County, which has a largely white population and is considered a Republican stronghold in Indiana, election officials added two early voting stations in 2016.
So Hamilton County—where more white Republicans live—had three early voting stations, while Marion County—where more Black Democrats live—had only one.
Republican officials’ scheme prompted what the Star calls “a significant change in Central Indiana voting patterns.”
Between 2008 and 2016, there was a 63 percent increase in absentee voting in Hamilton County, but in Marion County there was a 26 percent decline. (The Star notes that absentee ballots are used at early voting stations in Indiana.) And in other Republican strongholds in the region—Boone, Johnson, and Hendricks counties—where GOP officials added early voting sites, there was an increase in absentee voting.
Nadia Brown, a political science professor at Purdue University, called the stats “ridiculous.”
“This is a clear way to make it more strenuous for people to vote,” Brown told the Star.
Republicans, of course, are waving off criticism, saying that the decrease in early voting in Marion County is due to lack of funding. Maybe Black people in Marion County just don’t want to vote!
Jim Merritt, who is chairman of the Marion County Republican Party, practically clutched his pearls at the insinuation that anything nefarious was afoot: “I have never received any type of message that the individuals in charge of Marion County have any interest in spending the money to expand satellite locations,” Merritt declared, according to the Star.
But the only Republican who sits on Marion County’s elections board has blocked four attempts to expand early voting there, thanks to an Indiana statute that requires that elections board to be unanimous in its decision to open an early voting station.
“It is a deliberate attempt by certain people in our government to make voting hard,” said Beth White, former Marion County clerk and a Democrat.
Those certain people are Republicans, and the people who are going to have a harder time voting are people of color.
That’s due to the fact that more and more Hoosiers are taking advantage of early voting, in part because they aren’t able to take time off work to cast a ballot on Election Day. By eliminating early voting stations in Marion County but not in white Republican strongholds, Republicans are disenfranchising Black voters and anyone else who may rely on early voting hours—including low-income people and elderly people. Predominantly white voters in Republican counties will have multiple early voting sites to choose from come the next election; voters in Marion County, however, will have only one.
And even that one is a bit of a disaster: Republican officials admitted in court testimony that a construction project will disrupt parking in downtown Indianapolis, according to the Star. Only one early voting station and no guarantee of a place to park? Just more roadblocks being erected to make it harder for people to vote.
It’s not surprising that Indiana Republicans are so brazen in their voter suppression efforts.
After Obama won in 2008, Indiana enacted a voter ID law that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in Crawford v. Marion County Elections Board. In that case, the Court bought Indiana’s song and dance about it being necessary to have a voter ID law in place in order to guard against fraud. This was the case even though Justice Stevens, writing for a 6-3 majority, admitted that the record in that case “contains no evidence of any [in-person voter impersonation] fraud actually occurring in Indiana at any time in its history.”
Apparently, an existential threat of voter fraud was enough for the high court. And lest we forget, voter ID laws make it harder for people of color and low-income people to vote—because despite the pervasive conservative narrative, it’s actually quite difficult for some people to get a photo ID.
Perhaps their win at the U.S. Supreme Court emboldened Indiana Republicans, including the lone one on the elections board that keeps blocking early voting expansion. Perhaps after that win they gathered in a dark smoky room somewhere, twirled their mustaches, and decided to concoct new ways to suppress Black and other reliably Democratic votes. Perhaps they feel untouchable.
We’re about to find out whether they are: The NAACP and Common Cause filed a lawsuit against the Marion County Elections Board in May, alleging that the election board’s refusal to open early voting stations in Marion County unconstitutionally burdens the right to vote. They allege that the Republicans are purposefully maintaining an unequal system of voting and that it violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th Amendment. They also allege violations of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits discriminatory voting practices.
Their suits ask a federal court to force Marion County officials to reopen the early voting stations—and with any luck, the court will do so. Otherwise, you’ll have a better chance of encountering a chupacabra in the wild than a Black voter in Indiana.