INDIANAPOLIS – Hoosiers who vote absentee in November’s election have a little extra time to get their ballot return to their county’s election office.
In Indiana, in order for an absentee ballot to count, the voter must either mail or hand deliver it to their county’s election office. A judge in the Southern District of Indiana ruled Tuesday that anybody who votes by mail can send in their ballot by Nov. 3 and it will still count, as long as their county’s office receives it within 10 days. The previous law stated that a person’s ballot had to be received by noon on Election Day for it to count.
The ruling came because of a lawsuit brought to the state by Common Cause Indiana, a non-profit, non-partisan organization focused on voter rights. They argued the requirement of noon on Election Day caused an undue burden on Hoosiers and violated their First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
The Indiana Secretary of State’s Office had no comment on the ruling. A spokesperson for the Indiana Attorney General’s Office said they were reviewing and considering their options in the case.
In June’s primary election, nearly 2,000 otherwise valid ballots were rejected in Marion and Hamilton counties because they didn’t make it to the election office in time, even though they were postmarked on or before Election Day.
Judge Sarah Evans Barker noted in her opinion that voters have shown to be disenfranchised because of the noon rule. In its response to the lawsuit, the state argued there are options for people who are concerned their ballot may not make it to their county election office by noon on Nov. 3. Two options the state mentioned include hand delivering the ballot or simply returning it earlier to insure it makes it to the office in time.
“Appearing in person is an option not available to many absentee voters, who may be disabled, seriously ill, homebound, out of the state, or remaining sequestered at home to avoid COVID-19's devastation,” Barker said of the first option. “Indeed, as Plaintiffs point out, these are often the very circumstances that render such voters eligible to and desirous of voting by mail in the first place.”
As for the second option, Barker said, “As Plaintiffs argue, the State cannot offer absentee voting by mail and then tell voters who choose it and abide by the statutory rules that they should have chosen differently because of delays over which they have no control.”
She also said it’s unclear why the state has such a deadline of noon in the first place. Barker said the state didn’t present any evidence that shows how the deadline promotes voter participation or prevents voter fraud.
“Defendants ‘may not simply invoke the phrase “election integrity” without further explanation’ and expect those incantations to carry the day,” she wrote.
She ruled for a preliminary injunction, preventing Indiana election officials from enforcing the noon deadline and instead forcing them to allow ballots postmarked by Election Day, as long as they receive them within 10 days.
“Election Day is set by law as November 3—all day on November 3 until the polls officially close,” Barker wrote. “Any voter casting a ballot has the right to do so within that time frame. The noon Election Day receipt deadline disadvantages—indeed, disenfranchises—voters who vote by mail-in ballot by cutting short the time period within which they are permitted to exercise this right even though, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring the timely delivery of their ballots is outside their control.”