Advocates Urge Appeals Court To Allow Hoosiers To Vote By Mail With No Excuses
By Taylor Wooten
INDIANAPOLIS—As Indiana becomes one of only four states requiring an excuse for absentee voting, a federal appeals court is being urged to order the state to allow all Hoosiers to vote in the Nov. 3 general election by absentee ballot without an excuse because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A group of Indiana voters and the organization, Indiana Vote By Mail, filed a brief Wednesday with the 7th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals seeking to overturn a lower court ruling that denied their motion for an injunction to allow no-excuse mail-in voting.
“Everybody needs an option,” said Barbara Tully, president of Indiana Vote By Mail. “Vote by mail is a great equalizer.”
To get an absentee ballot in Indiana, voters must have one of 11 listed excuses in the application, including being over 65 years of age or out of the county on the date of the election. Fear of COVID-19, which has killed more than 3,200 Hoosiers and sickened more than 100,000 as it continues to spread, is not one of them.
“We seem intent in Indiana to make it harder for people to vote,” Tully said.
Vote By Mail and other voters initially filed a lawsuit in federal court in August saying Indiana’s law violates the 26thAmendment, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, and asked for an injunction that would force state officials to allow no-excuse absentee voting.
A federal judge denied the motion and the organization appealed to the 7th Circuit. Hill responded to their appeal on behalf of Indiana on Sept. 10, urging the appellate court to uphold the lower court ruling and now Vote By Mail’s attorneys have filed an answer to Hill.
Attorneys for Vote By Mail argue that Indiana is still in a public health emergency and going to the polls in-person puts lives at risk. Allowing those over 65 to vote by mail while not extending the same right to younger voters is a violation of the 26th Amendment.
They also dispute Hill’s argument that to rule in favor of Vote By Mail would require striking down the provision in Indiana’s absentee voting law allowing persons over age 65 to obtain an absentee ballot.
“This argument is astonishing. Particularly during a pandemic, in which in-person voting poses serious risks to all voters, this Court not only can but should issue a preliminary injunction allowing all Indiana voters the choice to vote by mail—just as Defendants concluded the Indiana Election Code permitted for the June primary,” the appeal says.
During his virtual press conference Wednesday on the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Eric Holcomb said that voters have plenty of options to vote safely in the general election. He added that changes to the state’s absentee voting law should be made by the legislature.
“The bottom line is, it is safe to vote in-person for up to 28 days prior to the election,” Holcomb said, citing the Oct. 6 opening date for early voting.
Hill, in his defense of Indiana’s voting procedures, argued that Indiana’s use of early voting and absentee voting for the elderly and sick is sufficient during the pandemic. Changing the law two months before the election is too drastic and could cause chaos, he added.
The Indiana Election Commission voted in March to allow mail-in voting without an excuse for the June 2 primary. In response to why this cannot be replicated, Holcomb said that this decision was made due to restrictions on travel that were in place at the time.
The deadline to register to vote for the general election is Oct. 5. The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 22 and can be accessed on the Indiana Voter Registration website.
Taylor Wooten is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.