Democrats push for more safety precautions, additional mailings for primary election

Democrats on the Indiana Election Commission pushed for extra safety precautions and additional mailings for the June 2 primary election during a meeting Friday, but the suggestions were rejected by Republican board members.

The commission, which consists of two Republican and two Democratic members, on Friday approved an order that followed recommendations Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson announced Thursday.

That included limiting in-person early voting to May 26 through June 1 and requiring the Indiana Election Division to provide safety training and guidelines to the counties, such as how to handle mail and the proper use of personal protective equipment. Casting a ballot by mail is an option for all registered voters.

The order also requires all public buildings to be made available for voting and allows counties to establish more than one location to count absentee ballots, but limits it to one center for every 50,000 active voters. For counties with fewer than 50,000 active voters, up to three locations to count absentee ballots will be allowed.

After unanimously approving the measure, the two Democrats on the board—Anthony Long and Suzannah Wilson Overholt—offered six amendments.

The proposed changes included extending the deadline for when voters can request absentee ballots; extending the deadline for when an absentee ballot can be received in order to count in the election; offering curbside voting so people can stay in their vehicles to cast a ballot; and requiring the state to either mail absentee ballot applications to every registered voter or send postcards to voters explaining how to request an absentee ballot.

Lawson said Thursday that the state cannot afford to mail every registered voter an absentee ballot application.

The Indianapolis City-County Council on Monday voted to allocate $1.1 million toward costs associated with mailing every registered voter in the county an absentee ballot application for this year’s elections. Printable ballot applications are available online here.

Indiana Election Commission Chairman Paul Okeson said the amendments were “a bit disingenuous” because both parties had negotiated and agreed on the order the commission approved earlier in the meeting.

Long said he was trying to protect poll workers and do everything he could to encourage voting by mail.

“We in no way intended this to be disingenuous to the process,” Long said.

The amendments failed to pass with a 2-2 vote, with the Democrats in favor and the Republicans opposed.

After the meeting, Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody issued a statement saying he supports the order the commission approved, but was “disappointed” the other suggestions from Democrats were turned down.

“Indiana had the largest one-day increase of COVID-19 cases announced yesterday, and we must keep options on the table to expand voting rights and protect the public health of Hoosiers,” Zody said in the statement.

The election commission is scheduled to meet again on Wednesday, but Okeson said that meeting could be canceled.

The commission is also expected to meet again before May 24.

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