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: 769875

Reported Deaths: 13999
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1057621807
Lake570271031
Allen43112700
Hamilton37395426
St. Joseph37377568
Elkhart29801471
Tippecanoe23544231
Vanderburgh23269405
Porter19593327
Johnson18880394
Hendricks18129323
Clark13595198
Madison13590347
Vigo12890256
Monroe12598178
LaPorte12585225
Delaware11170198
Howard10724237
Kosciusko9804124
Hancock8778150
Bartholomew8286157
Warrick8094157
Floyd8063182
Grant7387181
Wayne7244201
Boone7221105
Morgan6934143
Marshall6351117
Dubois6291118
Cass6101112
Dearborn603578
Noble602090
Henry5969111
Jackson518077
Shelby511698
Lawrence4946127
Gibson464296
Montgomery460392
DeKalb457885
Clinton457455
Harrison456477
Huntington419382
Whitley417945
Steuben411760
Miami406773
Jasper402155
Knox390491
Putnam386062
Wabash370984
Adams354456
Ripley352371
Jefferson345387
White340754
Daviess3094100
Wells304581
Greene295585
Decatur293293
Fayette287164
Posey283135
Scott282358
LaGrange278172
Clay275649
Washington255337
Randolph247983
Jennings239949
Spencer239331
Fountain236550
Starke229959
Owen223859
Sullivan222143
Fulton209145
Jay203332
Carroll198522
Orange192356
Perry190639
Vermillion181544
Rush178327
Tipton173448
Franklin172935
Parke156116
Pike143034
Blackford138132
Pulaski123848
Newton123536
Benton109915
Brown106443
Crawford106216
Martin92515
Warren88015
Switzerland8468
Union73610
Ohio58511
Unassigned0429

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