U.S. court denies bid to force expanded Indiana mail-in voting

The effort to allow all Hoosiers to vote by absentee ballot in the November presidential election has been blocked by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals which, in an echo of the state’s argument, found Election Day is too close to make any changes now.

In a separate case, a judge temporarily stayed, pending appeal, an order blocking an Indiana law that requires absentee ballots be received by noon to be counted.

Indiana Vote by Mail and other individual plaintiffs had challenged Indiana’s prohibition on no-excuse absentee balloting, arguing the restrictions were unconstitutional. The plaintiffs had sought a preliminary injunction preventing Indiana from enforcing the limitations so that all Indiana residents would have the option of mailing in their ballot Nov. 3 as they had been able to do for the June primary, when restrictions were lifted due to the pandemic.

In August, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana denied the motion for preliminary injunction. The plaintiffs’ appeal was expedited  with oral arguments held Sept. 30, and the 7th Circuit issuing its ruling Tuesday, affirming the lower court’s decision.

“The (U.S.) Supreme Court told us that the fundamental right to vote does not extend to a claimed right to cast an absentee ballot by mail,” Judge Michael Kanne wrote, citing McDonald v. Board of Election Commissioners of Chicago. “And unless a state’s actions make it harder to cast a ballot at all, the right to vote is not at stake.”

Indiana had argued, in part, the plaintiffs were calling for a significant change to the state’s electoral process with the general election just a short time away. Expanding absentee balloting at this stage would potentially confuse voters, the state asserted.

The appellate panel agreed. Citing Purcell v. Gonzalez (2006), the court said the federal courts had to exercise caution and restraint before changing procedures on the eve of an election.

“Given that voting is already underway in Indiana, we have crossed Purcell’s warning threshold and are wary of turning the State in a new direction at this late stage,” Kanne wrote.

The decision was unanimous, with Judge Kenneth Ripple writing a concurring opinion.

Meanwhile, in a separate election lawsuit, a federal judge on Tuesday temporarily stayed her earlier injunction that would have blocked enforcement of a law requiring absentee ballots be received by noon on Election Day. The state on Friday appealed the injunction to the 7th Circuit.

Senior Judge Sarah Evans Barker’s order issued Tuesday stayed her Sept. 29 injunction for one week to allow the 7th Circuit to consider the state’s appeal. But the judge also used the order to implore Hoosier voters who may opt to cast a mail-in ballot to request one soon and return it promptly, as the deadline for requesting absentee ballots is just over two weeks away.

Barker’s ruling gives the Chicago appeals court time to consider the state’s appeal and “determine whether an additional stay is warranted,” she wrote. “In the interim, ‘lest they effectively lose their right to do so by the vagaries of COVID-19, mail processing, or other, unforeseen developments leading up to the November election,’ … Indiana voters eligible to and desirous of voting by absentee ballot are encouraged to submit their applications well in advance of Indiana’s October 22, 2020 deadline, and, upon receipt, to promptly complete and return their absentee ballots without delay.”

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8 thoughts on “U.S. court denies bid to force expanded Indiana mail-in voting

  1. Our voting system has to be fixed, everyone can recognize that there are too many conflicting policies and in the middle of a major election season is not the time for confusing people further. There should be a bi-partisan way of doing this that would make it easier for people to vote, and make election processes safer from tampering by nefarious means. People want to participate in democracy, so why is making it hard for them to do so in the best interests of our country?

    1. Under Federal election law, the State determines how to hold elections. So the only process to keep track of is Indiana’s, and it is rather straightforward.

    2. To answer your closing question, Mary: Because it is a citizen’s duty to make the time to vote on election day, period. If a citizen does not take that responsibility seriously, then they are probably too ignorant of U. S. history and the consequences of elections to vote anyway.

      Provisions have forever been in place (and should be) for people who are physically unable or otherwise honestly unavailable to vote in person on election day. Whining for more provisions only lessens the importance of taking one’s civic duty seriously enough to take time to vote.

      This from a poll worker of more than 30 continuous years, save one primary election in which I was recovering from cancer surgery.

    3. In Indiana it is not bi-partisan. At the root of the problem is how districts are drawn to make sure one side always has a partisan advantage.

      There also seems to be a belief among Republican lawmakers that the lower the vote turn out, the more likely Republicans will win, and so they seem to be working in every way that looks like it is legal to make sure that as few people can vote as possible. If they could have implemented a poll tax to keep poor people (likely Democrats) from voting, they would have. Instead they make sure that if you can’t afford to take time off work (likely poor working class people, ie likely Democrats), you won’t vote.

    4. Bob P., I would agree with your point if you weren’t ignoring the fact we are in the middle of a pandemic which has killed 210,000 Americans.

  2. The requirement to stand in line, potentially for hours, creates a disproportionate hardship on those who don’t have access to convenient transportation, or who work hourly or gig jobs. All but five states (Indiana is one of the 5) permit a voter to cast a ballot by mail without requiring an excuse/reason. This reduces the hoops one needs to jump through to vote by mail, and makes it easier to vote. That is a good thing. I wouldn’t necessarily characterize the voters in those 45 other states, who mail their ballots, as ignorant nor unserious. Indiana should adopt the policy used in 45 other states.

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