Indiana’s leading advocates for voters, the ACLU of Indiana, Common Cause Indiana, Indiana Vote by Mail and the League of Women Voters of Indiana were joined by Indiana election law expert Bill Groth at a virtual meeting of the Indiana Election Commission last week. While the organizations voiced appreciation for steps that state officials have taken to safeguard the health of voters and election workers, they believe additional steps must be taken to ensure that no Hoosier voters will have to make a choice between protecting their health and casting their ballot in the 2020 primary election.
The organizations have called for a more transparent election planning process with full disclosure from the Secretary of State’s office about how nearly $8 million in federal stimulus funds earmarked for elections will be used this year.
The organizations also requested that several specific steps be taken to protect voters, including:
- Extending the deadline to apply for an absentee ballot closer to Election Day (the current deadline is twelve days before Election Day)
- Relaxing the deadline by which ballots must be returned to the county election office. Under current law, if a ballot is returned after noon on Election Day, June 2, it won’t be counted. All ballots postmarked on or before Election Day should be counted if they arrive before June 6.
- Provisions should be made for secure drop boxes where voters can hand deliver their ballot to ensure it arrives on time
- To prevent voter confusion, all policies enacted for the primary election should be kept in place for the general election in November
- A significant portion of Indiana’s $8 million federal appropriation to safeguard elections should be spent educating Hoosiers about how to cast an absentee ballot by mail and facilitating that process
Katie Blair, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy for ACLU of Indiana said, “Due to the public health emergency caused by COVID-19, Hoosier voters will encounter a variety of barriers to the ballot. The recent change to allow no-excuse absentee voting in the 2020 primary election is encouraging. However, other barriers must be addressed in order for every Hoosier to cast their ballot successfully. Policy makers should be transparent about the steps they are taking to ensure voters have access to the ballot, extend the deadlines to submit applications and return absentee ballots, and increase voter education around new policies being put into place. No one should have to choose between their health and their vote. Together, we can face any crisis with the determination needed to protect our democracy.”
Julia Vaughn, Common Cause Indiana Policy Director stated, “It is good to see the federal government step up and provide some much needed funding to states to safeguard our elections. But, it’s not clear that Secretary of State Connie Lawson is planning to use this money in the best way. Secretary Lawson has said that the state will spend a significant portion of these funds on protective personal equipment for poll workers, which is short-sighted. While we agree it is important to have in-person voting options on Election Day, the state should do whatever it can to encourage voters to avoid crowded polling places and instead cast a mail in ballot. Instead of stocking up on masks and sanitizer, spend this money helping voters cast their ballot by mail. First step is ensuring everyone has easy access to that ballot. The state should follow Marion County’s lead and mail everyone an application to vote by mail. “
“The $7.9M in Federal Election Stimulus funds granted to Indiana could go a long way toward ensuring voters a safe, accessible election where all votes cast are counted,” stated Linda Hanson, Co-President of the League of Women Voters of Indiana. “Since the funds were awarded for ‘the 2020 Federal election cycle,’ expenditures should reflect foresight and support the infrastructure for massive absentee voting by mail in the primary as well as the general election. The silver lining in this pandemic is the opportunity to ensure voter confidence in election results by establishing a voter verified paper audit trail statewide. More than half of our 92 counties do not have that capability—nor the funds to attain the optical scan machines necessary for counting a large volume of absentee paper ballots. Secretary Lawson noted that with changes in election procedures, ‘it is imperative to maintain voter confidence,’ but offered no details for expenditures to do so apart from media costs to advertise the changes. We urge state officials to Invest in making those changes go smoothly. “
“County election administrators need all the help they can get to deal with the large number of mailed ballots this election year,” said Barbara Tully, Indiana Vote by Mail President. “But, we don’t need to re-invent the wheel here, particularly given the pressing circumstances. We urge the Secretary of State and Indiana Election Commission to work closely with the United States Postal Service to utilize their expertise in developing an election mail standardized process to ensure that voters and poll workers who must count this large volume of ballots are both well served. Let’s spend a large part of the $8 million dollars from the federal government preparing everyone involved for a very different voting experience to ensure it goes smoothly. We must do everything we can to avoid the mistakes made in Wisconsin.”
Indianapolis election law attorney William Groth concluded, “Perhaps the single greatest disenfranchisement threat facing Indiana voters during this pandemic is the requirement that absentee ballots cast by mail must arrive at the county election office by noon on Election Day in order to be counted. We urge state officials to suspend this part of the statute and direct counties to count all ballots that are postmarked on or before June 2nd. Particularly now that all statutory deadlines have been disrupted and suspended, the noon Election Day deadline serves no important state interest. Suspending it costs little to nothing. And, unless modified, this deadline will disenfranchise a substantial number of voters. It is also worth noting that earlier this month the United States Supreme Court upheld a federal court ruling that Wisconsin’s Election Day deadline violated the 14th amendment. Let’s learn from their mistake.”