By Erica Irish
INDIANAPOLIS—The Indiana primary election has officially been delayed to June 2 while rules to vote by absentee ballot have been eased in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that continues to take a toll on every aspect of Hoosier life.
The four members of the Indiana Election Commission held a 20-minute public meeting over the video conferencing platform Zoom Wednesday morning to cast an official vote adopting an order authorizing the measures as the coronavirus outbreak spreads across the state.
As the commission was meeting, the Indiana State Department of Health was updating its website with the newest information about the virus, also known as COVID-19. Wednesday’s numbers—477 cases of the virus confirmed in Indiana and 14 deaths.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb first asked the commission to move the primary from May 5 to June 2 last week in a press conference with Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson.
More than 100 people listened to the commission’s virtual meeting Wednesday, the same day on which a statewide stay-at-home order took effect. While public comments were taken on the order in advance of the meeting from several groups, participants did not have the option to speak during the Zoom conference.
“This is obviously unprecedented territory,” said Paul Okeson, chair of the election commission, as the meeting began.
The commission members praised the bipartisan effort behind the order to postpone the primary and widen absentee voting opportunities.
In addition to delaying the primary election, the order asks the bi-partisan Indiana Election Division to develop an online portal on Indiana’s existing voter registration website where voters can submit absentee ballot applications. The order also authorizes family members and caregivers to deliver ballots to county election boards on behalf of people unable to leave their homes.
“This is a comprehensive order,” said election commission member Zachary Klutz. “It’s as comprehensive as possible, I think, to ensure the most voter turnout while protecting the health of the voters generally.”
Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody called the decision a “historic expansion of Hoosiers’ voting rights” in a statement released shortly after the commission meeting.
“I’m grateful for the action taken to remove barriers to the ballot box and protect Hoosiers’ safety,” Zody said. “Hoosiers shouldn’t have to choose between putting their health at risk and exercising their constitutional right to vote.”
The order was also supported by several nonpartisan groups, including the Indiana Citizen, a nonprofit working to increase voter turnout in the state.
“The Indiana Citizen believes this online option would spare voters the need to print out an absentee ballot application and then to mail it to their county election office,” said Bill Moreau, co-founder, and president of the Indiana Citizen Education Foundation. “Our group stands prepared to help in streamlining this process in any way possible.”
The election commission will hold another meeting on April 22 to determine if they should consider another postponement to the primary as the outbreak develops. Comments from the public are welcome and should be submitted in writing by April 10 to email@example.com.
FOOTNOTE: Erica Irish is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.