South Bend Tribune. August 27, 2020
For Hoosiers, a bit of good news about voting rights
For Hoosiers concerned about exercising their constitutional rights safely in the midst of a pandemic, there hasn’t been a lot of good news about voting.
They have a governor who refuses to make mail-in voting available to all, who talks about in-person voting with nostalgia while the coronavirus shows no sign of letting up.
Meanwhile, the president charges - without evidence - that mail-in voting leads to massive fraud.
Add to that the uproar over the cost-cutting measures implemented by the U.S. Postal Service that have been faulted for slowing mail delivery and criticized as an effort to disenfranchise mail-in voters.
All of these challenges remain, but last week brought a victory. On Thursday, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana blocked the state of Indiana from purging voters from registration lists without certain federal safeguards in place to prevent eligible voters from being improperly removed.
The court issued a permanent injunction, prohibiting the state from implementing a law that would have allowed the state to remove any Indiana registrant from the list of eligible voters who has changed address without contacting that person directly and without providing the notice and observing the waiting period required by the National Voter Registration Act.
The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Indiana, Demos and the firm Davis Wright Tremaine challenged the law. The case was brought on behalf of Common Cause Indiana.
Previously in this case, federal courts had struck down a virtually identical law that relied on data from the controversial Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck program. Instead of fixing the problems, Indiana enacted a new law that duplicated the same flawed procedures.
One of the authors of the original law, state Sen. Greg Walker, told the Indianapolis Star in 2017 that he felt certain the legislation was “a reasonable and effective way to keep accurate voter roll information.”
As we noted in a September 2017 comment, any law that complicates or creates obstacles to your right to vote is neither “reasonable” nor “effective.” And whatever the stated intentions of lawmakers who support such measures, it’s disenfranchisement.
“If allowed to stand, this law would have led to the disenfranchisement of eligible voters, especially voters of color,” said Barbara Bolling-Williams, president of the Indiana State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). “Today’s ruling is a win for democracy and racial justice in the state of Indiana.”
Another win for Hoosier voters, expanded absentee voting for the November election, has been rejected by the governor. But voting rights advocates can celebrate this decision.
The (Anderson) Herald Bulletin. August 27, 2020
Pandemic exposes low nursing home staffing
The novel coronavirus shouldn’t be a death sentence for Hoosiers living in long-term care facilities. But for many of them, it has been.
Twenty-six percent of nursing home residents who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 have died of the disease, according to Indiana State Department of Health statistics through Aug. 19. That’s nearly nine times the overall coronavirus death rate statewide.
Residents of long-term care facilities accounted for at least 60% of the state’s 3,041 COVID-19 deaths reported through Wednesday.
While many of those living in long-term care facilities have health concerns that put them at high-risk, the substandard staffing levels of some nursing homes clearly contribute to residents’ susceptibility.
When the crisis struck, some nursing home employees left their jobs rather than risk infection, and the pool of workers offered by temporary employment agencies began to dry up. Continual measures to disinfect and safeguard the facilities, coupled with the needs of ill residents, dramatically increased workloads for overburdened staffs. As a result, resident care suffered.
An investigative report by Whitney Downard, CNHI Indiana statehouse reporter, painted a troubling picture of staffing shortages.
Two-thirds of Hoosier long-term care facilities reporting 50 or more resident coronavirus cases have below-average staffing ratings of one or two stars out of five, the CNHI article noted. It cited federal government reports based on information provided by the Indiana State Department of Health.
Complaints to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration point to “skeletal” staffs and employees required to work double shifts. OSHA has looked into at least 31 complaints against Indiana nursing homes since the start of the pandemic.
Even before the pandemic, many Indiana long-term care facilities were understaffed. The Indianapolis Star reported this year that the state ranks 46th nationally in nursing home staffing.
While the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the problem, the underlying causes include low employee pay, difficult working conditions and inadequate government resources to help pay for elderly care.
“At the root of the problem is the fact that two-thirds of residents in a typical nursing home are on Medicaid, which pays very low rates for long-term care,” Tamara Konetzka, a health economics and health services research professor at the University of Chicago, told CNHI News Indiana.
U.S. Sens. Todd Young and Mike Braun of Indiana, along with the state’s nine-member congressional delegation, should lead the charge toward better support of long-term care through Medicaid.
The state of Indiana shoulders blame for low staffing at long-term care facilities, as well. The state department of health should have cracked down on nursing homes with low staffing before a public health crisis like the pandemic hit. Instead, many homes had not been inspected for 18 months or more.
State lawmakers should review oversight of Indiana nursing homes, establishing new rules and earmarking additional funds for inspections as needed.
Without such reform at the state and federal levels, the next public health crisis could bring a death sentence for more of Indiana’s most vulnerable residents.
The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. August 28, 2020
Indiana voters scored two legal victories in recent days. One court decision prevents county election officials from purging voter rolls without notice; a second bars officials from approving or rejecting ballots based solely on matching signatures.
In addition, an expedited appeal has been filed in a suit seeking no-excuse voting in the midst of the pandemic.
Combined, the lawsuits offer strong evidence of efforts to discourage participation in the most fundamental of our constitutional rights. When casting ballots this fall, Hoosiers shouldn’t overlook candidate views on voting rights.
Legal challenges by Common Cause Indiana, the NAACP, the ACLU of Indiana and other groups highlight a series of wrong-headed decisions by elected officials:
• In Indiana NAACP vs. Lawson, a federal court has permanently blocked state law allowing county election officials to purge voter rolls under a new law. The problems began with Indiana’s participation in the Crosscheck program created by former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Its database compared voter registration data across 28 participating states to find potential matches. Once tagged as a match, the registration was immediately deleted. But the program erroneously tossed voters from the rolls, particularly those with common names. Two federal courts agreed it was unconstitutional, so Indiana withdrew from Crosscheck and the Republican-controlled General Assembly adopted legislation in the last session to create the Indiana Data Enhancement Association. It essentially performed the same function as Crosscheck. Again, a federal judge ruled it illegal.
“As the court recognized, purging voters with no notice based on a system that disproportionately targets Black and brown voters violates our democratic principles and undermines the democratic process,” said Stuart Naifeh, senior counsel for Demos, one of the plaintiffs.
• In Frederick vs. Lawson, Common Cause challenged Indiana’s signature matching process for mail-in absentee ballots. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana ruled the requirements violate the due process and the equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because affected voters are not given notice or an opportunity to address questions before their ballots are rejected for a perceived signature mismatch. Importantly, the court ordered the Indiana secretary of state to notify election officials statewide of the ruling and to implement legal procedures in time for the Nov. 3 election.
“This is a historic win for Indiana voters,” said Julia Vaughn, policy director of Common Cause Indiana. “This victory helps ensure no Hoosier voting by mail will be disenfranchised by Indiana’s flawed signature matching law. Election laws should protect people’s right to vote and the integrity of our election system. Indiana’s signature matching law failed to do either, and wrongly disenfranchised Hoosiers. The court made the right decision to block its enforcement.”
Both measures were embraced by Statehouse officials as ways to counter voter fraud. Federal judges rightly recognized they were instead voter suppression tools.
Both rulings are expected to be appealed by Indiana’s Republican attorney general – more reason for voters to closely examine the views of the current candidates for attorney general.
Voters should also note the continued resistance to no-excuse absentee voting by Secretary of State Connie Lawson and Gov. Eric Holcomb. As the state’s election law is repeatedly ruled unconstitutional, they continue to stand on the side of making it more difficult to vote, as they did Wednesday in insisting COVID-19 concerns will not be a valid reason for voting by mail.
A ruling on the expedited appeal could allow no-excuse absentee voting, but voters shouldn’t overlook the reason a lawsuit was necessary.
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