Indiana lagging in allowing ‘no excuse’ voting


The Tribune

While other states are adjusting, Indiana state officials refuse to make any changes.

It’s unlikely “no excuse” absentee voting will be an option in Indiana this fall, but the number of early local ballot requests suggests there will still be a record of mail-in votes for the general election.

More than 800 Jackson County voters had requested absentee ballots through Wednesday, which is more than the 716 mail-in votes cast during the 2016 presidential election. That process began July 6 and ends Oct. 22. In the spring there 1,973 requests for ballots.

There are 11 accepted excuses for voting by mail, which range from being 65 years old or older to not being in the county of residence for the entire time polls are open on the Nov. 3 Election Day. Local officials estimate 12,000 to 13,000 votes will be cast by mail locally under the current rules.

As a large group of Hoosiers continue to express their desire to vote by mail, state officials won’t budge.

Indiana voters live in the minority of states requiring its residents to head to the polls in 2020 despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. At least 77% of all American voters can vote “no excuse” this upcoming election, but residents in Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas can’t.

In the United States, prior to the pandemic, five states offered all-mail elections: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

Indiana almost became a part of the exclusive group in 2018. A couple of years ago, Senate Bill 250, which would’ve authorized “no excuse” absentee voting, was sent to the House after receiving a 39-10 passing vote in the Republican-led Senate.

The bill made it to the House, but was never considered for a vote.

At the time, Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, who was the House elections committee chairman, said that the measure wasn’t needed. Smith said he didn’t have knowledge of anyone ever being refused an absentee ballot, and that he didn’t feel a need to hear it because it wasn’t a problem.

While Smith never could’ve predicted a pandemic would occur, there wasn’t an argument over the validity of the mail-in option.

Recent developments suggest changes aren’t happening.

On Aug. 14, the Indiana Election Commission deadlocked on a vote to allow all residents to vote by mail due to the coronavirus pandemic. The four-person board voted among party lines, stalling any forward progress. Chairman Paul Okeson said it was premature to make any decisions, and that they should wait on the outcome of several federal lawsuits seeking to order the state to expand absentee ballot eligibility.

Gov. Eric Holcomb has said he won’t decide otherwise on mail-in voting until a federal judge issues an opinion on whether the state’s election law allows some but not all registered voters to vote by mail violates the Constitution. In a ruling filed Friday, U.S. District Court Judge James Patrick Hanlon said that plaintiffs did not show the “likelihood of success in showing that the policy is unconstitutional.”

If the mail-in voting issue isn’t resolved soon, Hoosiers wanting to vote “no excuse” should plan on voting early to avoid lines. While politicians argue over acceptable modes of voting, most Hoosiers need to start planning on voting in-person.

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