CHICAGO — A federal appeals court has sided with the state of Indiana to keep the state's noon Election Day deadline to receive absentee ballots.
Late last month, a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana issued an injunction setting aside the noon Election Day deadline in Indiana law and ruling that Indiana must count mail-in ballots postmarked on or before Nov. 3 and received on or before Nov. 13.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit issued a stay against the lower court's ruling that effectively reinstates the noon Election Day deadline for absentee ballots to be received.
Common Cause Indiana, the main plaintiff in the lawsuit that resulted in the district court ruling, had argued that the COVID-19 pandemic and the surge in absentee voting in the primary as well as problems with the U.S. Postal Service and the probability that ballots would arrive after the deadline made the state's deadline unconstitutional.
The federal appeals court disagreed as long as the state allows voting in-person there is no constitutional right to vote by mail.
"That some people are unwilling to vote in person does not make an otherwise-valid system unconstitutional," the appeals court judges wrote. "It is for states to decide what sort of adjustments would be prudent. The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has caused great loss but is not a good reason for the federal judiciary to assume tasks that belong to politically responsible officials."
Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill praised the ruling saying that changes to Indiana's election system this close to Election Day would do more harm than good.
"Our system provides adequate opportunity for all Hoosiers to cast a ballot by Election Day, and the absentee ballot-receipt deadline as written by the Indiana General Assembly helps most races to be called on Election Day, and not days or weeks after," Hill said. "The U.S. Supreme Court has said repeatedly that courts should not issue election-related injunctions at the eleventh hour, and we are pleased that the court of appeals has implemented that directive."
Hill also noted that Indiana law permits Hoosiers to cast a ballot at early-voting locations for 28 days prior to Election Day and permits mail-in absentee voting in 12 different circumstances, including when voters are disabled or elderly, or when voters expect to be away from the home counties on Election Day.