Federal Indiana Judge Extends Mail-In Ballot Deadline, Cites Undecided Voters Needing More Time

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Brianna Lyman News and Commentary Writer
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A federal judge extended Indiana’s deadline Tuesday to receive absentee ballots by 10 days.

Judge Sarah Evans Barker ruled that absentee ballots postmarked on or before Nov. 3 and received on or before Nov. 13 will be counted.

The suit was brought on by Common Cause Indiana, a group that argued the Nov 3. mail-in ballot noon deadline was an “undue burden on the fundamental right to vote” due to the ongoing pandemic,  according to Indy Star.

“This early receipt deadline is unjustified in any election, but it is particularly burdensome and unjustified in this election year, when mail delivery is unreliable and the risk of infection from COVID-19 makes voting by mail the only safe option for many voters,” the group argued, according to NWI Times.

According to Indiana law, voters can request an absentee ballot for a myriad of reasons, including illness or injury, disability, or work obligations that would prevent the voter from reaching the polls. (RELATED: Pennsylvania Supreme Court: Mail-In Ballot Deadline Extended, Drop Boxes OK)

The Indiana Election Commission expanded eligibility to vote-by-mail during the state’s June primary to include any voters who can’t safely be in close proximity to other voters due to the coronavirus, but decided against keeping the expansion for the general election.

Indiana has been accepting applications to vote-by-mail in the general election since June, according to Judge Barker.

Under federal law, an absentee ballot application must be received for a presidential election “not later than seven days immediately prior to such election,” which is Oct. 27 for this election. Meanwhile, county officials are required in Indiana to mail ballots “on the day of the receipt of the voter’s application” if the voter requests a ballot within 45 days of the election.

Barker notes that the filled in ballots, which come with a pre-paid envelope, could arrive to county election officials late and miss the deadline, forcing voters to vote in person. However, “voters typically are not informed of whether their ballots arrived on or before the deadline,” Barker wrote.

Defendants argued that Hoosiers had more than enough time to ensure their mail-in ballots were received on time by requesting the ballots weeks in advance of the state deadline.

However, Barker rejected the claims of the Defendants, arguing voters who are wary of their candidate choice could very well be disadvantaged.

“Given the unprecedented number of mail-in ballots expected to be cast in the November 3, 2020 election, there can be little doubt that a significant number of ‘seemingly prudent, if unwary, would-be voters will not request an absentee ballot far enough in advance to allow them to receive it, vote, and return it for receipt by mail before the Election Day deadline despite acting well in advance of the deadline for requiring a ballot’.”

Barker also ruled that the noon deadline for mail-in ballots is a burden on voters who have their decision making time cut down.

“The burden imposed by Indiana’s noon Election Day receipt deadline, which threatens to disenfranchise thousands of eligible absentee voters for reasons that, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, are outside their control, is very substantial,” she wrote.

Barker rejected the argument that extending the ballot would lead to more absentee ballots being cast and therefore overwhelm election officials.

“We find that this additional administrative strain is not so compelling as to outweigh the burden faced by voters,” Barker wrote.

“An order extending the noon Election Day receipt deadline for mail-in absentee ballots is straightforward and does not affect the procedure a voter must follow to properly submit an absentee mail-in ballot. There is no impact on the voting process itself, nor any real risk of voter confusion or dissuasion from casting a ballot.”

More than 550,000 Hoosiers requested absentee ballots during the primary election, raising the possibility that far more voters will request absentee ballots during the general election, according to the Indy Star.