INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana's complicated voting regulations and switching of polling locations frustrate voters and keep them away from ballot boxes, in what some see as an effort to suppress the vote, officials and voting rights advocates told a legislative panel Thursday.
Indianapolis radio personality Amos Brown and Trent Deckard, Democratic co-director of the Indiana Election Division, told the Census Data Advisory Committee that unexplained relocation of polling places and 52 pages of changes approved since 2012 cause voters, especially minorities, to lose faith in the system.
Brown, who is well-known for advocating on behalf of African-Americans, said his polling place, which had been at a local church within walking distance for 20 years, was suddenly switched to a golf course across the White River that could only be reached by car because there weren't any sidewalks.
"We have seen, in Marion County, instances where polling locations were just changed willy-nilly," Brown said.
Marc Lotter, a spokesman for Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, a Republican who was tasked with redrawing the precincts, said the boundaries are redrawn every 10 years to reflect population shifts.
"These things definitely affect the voting of minorities," said Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis.
Deckard said confusion among poll workers who don't understand state registration requirements has resulted in voters being denied their rights and in long lines that cause some people to give up before casting a ballot.
"The feeling the voter has at that time, whether right or wrong, is that something in the system is suppressing the vote," Deckard said.
"One of the hardest things I have to tell people is that maybe their vote is not going to count," he added.
Committee members said if precincts are redrawn, voters should be notified of the location of their new voting location, which some counties don't do.
Ruth Greenwood, an attorney who works with a Chicago-based voting rights group that monitors voting in northwest Indiana, said a study identified the main reasons given for not voting: intimidation, including political robocalls; problems with registration; and problems involving polling places. Misinterpretation of Indiana's voter ID law was another source, often involving what types of documents were acceptable as ID, she said.
"The intent may not have been to suppress the vote, but the effect is clear," Greenwood said.
Indiana's voter ID law was upheld in 2008 by the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected arguments that it imposes unjustified burdens on people who are old, poor or members of minority groups and less likely to have driver's licenses or other acceptable forms of identification.