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Judge rules Indiana must tell voters of nixed mail ballots

A federal judge has struck down Indiana’s process of rejecting absentee ballots because of differing voter signatures, since the process didn't require voters to be told about such decisions or offer a way to contest them.

Posted: Aug 21, 2020 2:32 PM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A federal judge has struck down Indiana’s process of rejecting absentee ballots because of differing voter signatures, since the process didn't require voters to be told about such decisions or offer a way to contest them.

The ruling Thursday prevents election officials from tossing out mailed-in absentee ballots with envelope signatures that don’t match those on voter registration records unless the voters are given enough notice before Election Day.

The lawsuit filed last year by Common Cause Indiana only claims that the problem affected a small percentage of mailed-in ballots in the 2018 election, but the ruling comes as Indiana election officials are expecting a big jump in voting by mail this fall because of the coronavirus threat.

U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker found that county election workers are not trained in handwriting analysis to determine whether the voter signatures match as required by state law.

“While the overall number of voters disenfranchised by the signature verification is not overwhelmingly large, there is nonetheless a real risk of erroneous rejection, particularly given the natural variations in a person’s handwriting ... which might result from uncontrollable factors such as age or mental or physical condition,” Barker wrote.

The judge faulted the state for disenfranchising voters without any process for notifying them that their mailed-in ballots had been rejected, which would allow them to appeal the decision or cast a ballot in person.

Barker rejected arguments from state attorneys that the signature verification process was a reasonable step to prevent voting fraud.

Barker ordered Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson to create voter notification and appeal procedures for this fall’s election.

Julia Vaughn, policy director of Common Cause Indiana, said the ruling would prevent votes from being tossed out because of a flawed law.

“Election laws should protect people’s right to vote and the integrity of our election system,” she said in a statement. “Indiana’s signature matching law failed to do either and wrongly disenfranchised Hoosiers.”

The secretary of state’s office didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment Friday.

The Indiana attorney general’s office, which represented the state in the lawsuit, was reviewing the ruling and considering its legal options, spokeswoman Melissa Gustafson said.

Common Cause said records it requested from 18 of Indiana’s 92 counties found that eight counties rejected 177 mailed-in ballots during the 2018 general election because of signature mismatches. Only northwestern Indiana’s Lake County, which rejected 32 ballots, had a process for notifying those voters. Ten other counties didn’t reject any such ballots.

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Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 329008

Reported Deaths: 5663
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion44793862
Lake28485466
Allen19005303
Elkhart17828233
St. Joseph17409235
Hamilton13830170
Vanderburgh10166127
Tippecanoe907430
Porter865088
Johnson6866169
Hendricks6516158
Vigo634791
Monroe555550
Clark536278
Madison5335122
Delaware5130103
LaPorte486297
Kosciusko477541
Howard370378
Bartholomew340965
Warrick340173
Floyd332578
Wayne332384
Marshall314946
Cass306331
Grant290350
Hancock279357
Noble267047
Henry259037
Boone258855
Dubois247732
Dearborn233631
Jackson230634
Morgan226443
Gibson198229
Knox195221
Shelby194957
Clinton186822
DeKalb186733
Lawrence186049
Wabash175222
Adams173823
Miami173817
Daviess164945
Fayette155434
Steuben155115
Jasper153613
Montgomery152129
Harrison149924
LaGrange149331
Ripley148019
Whitley144315
Huntington136310
Decatur135643
Putnam133428
White133422
Wells132330
Clay130924
Randolph130321
Jefferson127016
Posey126918
Scott118021
Greene108553
Sullivan104416
Jay103314
Starke96124
Jennings93214
Spencer8998
Fulton87819
Perry86121
Fountain8288
Washington8267
Franklin74027
Carroll72913
Orange71028
Vermillion6777
Owen6528
Tipton61127
Parke6086
Newton57912
Rush5768
Blackford57112
Pike53720
Pulaski43415
Martin3776
Benton3703
Brown3645
Crawford3141
Union2822
Switzerland2705
Warren2583
Ohio2417
Unassigned0269

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