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Indiana governor urged to expand mail voting during pandemic

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Posted at 6:20 PM, Jul 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-31 21:23:41-04

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — With less than 100 days remaining until the General Election, two former Indiana lieutenant governors are calling for Gov. Eric Holcomb to expand mail-in voting as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

John Mutz, a Republican who served under former Gov. Robert Orr, and Kathy Davis, a Democrat who served under Joe Kernan, on Friday announced at a news conference that they have decided to partner with Indiana Vote by Mail, a nonprofit that’s also advocating for all Hoosiers to have a mail-in ballot option come November.

Without a broad mail-in voting option, the former lieutenant governors noted that fewer voting locations and long lines at polls will further suppress votes for minority, disabled and low-income voters. If the state waits too long to make a decision, they added, ill-prepared election offices and ballot backlogs are a feared result.

“Indiana could greatly improve ... to make that happen,” Davis said. “We better get started. I don’t think we can justify waiting for another 30 days of infection rates to suggest that we really need to provide this option.”

Holcomb and Republican election officials haven’t taken action yet, Mutz added, because of “pressure” from President Donald Trump. “It’s unfortunate. There’s no reason why we can’t do the right thing here.”

Indiana voters were allowed to mail their ballots for the June primary, while the state was still under a stay-at-home order. In recent weeks, however, Holcomb has indicated he doesn’t think the mail-in option will be necessary again.

In a news conference Wednesday, the governor said Hoosiers have enough early voting options already, adding that circumstances now are different than they were in March.

“Now Hoosiers can go out,” he said. “Now you can vote almost a month in advance ... and there are various options if you can’t vote in person.”

Indiana is one of nine states that does not currently have no-excuse-needed absentee voting for the November election. Generally, Hoosier voters must provide an accepted and specific reason to use an absentee ballot, including being over age 65, residing outside of the country or having to work while the polls are open. Under the stay-at-home order in June, those exceptions were lifted, allowing anyone the option to vote by mail.

On Thursday, a federal lawsuit filed by the Indiana State Conference of the NAACP and Common Cause Indiana seeks to further compel the state to expand absentee voting. The lawsuit argues that the state’s deadline for mail-in ballots — noon on Election Day — doesn’t account for expected surges in mail-in ballots and potential mail delays caused by the pandemic. The nonprofit contends that any ballot postmarked by Election Day should be counted without penalty.

“Indiana has seen a surge in requests for mail-in ballots and now we must make sure all those voters who chose to vote by mail to protect their health do not face barriers in making their voice heard,” Julia Vaughn, policy director at Common Cause Indiana, said in a statement.

The lawsuit is one of at least three pending in federal court to challenge Indiana’s election protocols. Another of the federal lawsuits, filed on behalf of Common Cause Indiana, argues that an Indiana law blocking voters and candidates from asking courts to keep polling places open past the state’s 6 p.m. closing time because of Election Day troubles violates the U.S. Constitution.

The lawsuit asks that a judge issue an order prior to this November’s election blocking the state law from being enforced.

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Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.”