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Judge tells Indiana to count ballots mailed by Election Day

A federal judge has ruled that Indiana law cannot dismiss mail-in ballots that don't arrive at county election offices by noon on Election Day.

Posted: Oct 1, 2020 8:44 AM
Updated: Oct 1, 2020 2:24 PM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A federal judge has ruled that Indiana law cannot dismiss mail-in ballots that don't arrive at county election offices by noon on Election Day.

The decision issued late Tuesday orders state election officials to count mail-in ballots if they are postmarked on or before Nov. 3 and received by voting offices no later than Nov. 13.

It comes as county election officials are preparing coronavirus precautions for in-person voting on Nov. 3 while handling a surge in mail-in ballots. The Republicans who control state government have largely resisted calls from Democrats and voting rights groups to ease limits on who can cast mail-in ballots and change the noon Election Day deadline for their arrival.

U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker rejected arguments from state attorneys that extending the deadline would confuse voters, add strain to county election staff and delay the completion of vote counting.

Barker, who was nominated a judge by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, ruled that thousands of people voting by mail because of the coronavirus pandemic faced having their votes not be counted because of slow mail delivery and other factors. The law’s main exception to the noon deadline has been for ballots sent from overseas by military members.

“Election Day is set by law as November 3 all day on November 3 until the polls officially close,” Barker wrote. “Any voter casting a ballot has the right to do so within that time frame. The noon Election Day receipt deadline disadvantages — indeed, disenfranchises — voters who vote by mail-in ballot by cutting short the time period within which they are permitted to exercise this right even though, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring the timely delivery of their ballots is outside their control.”

The lawsuit filed by Common Cause Indiana and the Indiana State Conference of the NAACP said about 1,500 ballots in Marion County, which includes Indianapolis, and 400 in Hamilton County were rejected for this year’s primary election because they arrived after the noon deadline.

Nearly 410,000 Indiana voters had already requested mail-in ballots through Tuesday, some five weeks ahead of Election Day, compared with about 155,000 total mail-in ballots cast for the 2016 presidential election, according to the Indiana secretary of state’s office, which oversees state election policy. About half of the ballots in Indiana’s June primary were cast by mail.

The secretary of state’s office declined to comment on Barker’s ruling. The state attorney general’s office, which is defending the election law, said it was reviewing the decision and considering its next step. Both offices are controlled by Republicans.

The federal appeals court in Chicago this week upheld a judge’s decision ordering six-day extension for counting absentee ballots in Wisconsin, meaning that ballots postmarked on or before Nov. 3 will be counted as long as they are received by Nov. 9.

Barbara Bolling-Williams, the Indiana NAACP president, said the decision protects the rights of those voting by mail.

“Before this ruling, if your ballot was delivered to the Election Office at say 12:10 p.m. instead of the noon deadline on Election Day, your ballot would have been rejected,” Bolling-Williams said. “Voting absentee by mail is a safe and now certain option for voters.”

Hamilton County Clerk Kathy Kreag Williams said the decision could delay when it is clear which candidate has won races, as her office in suburban Indianapolis could have hundreds of ballots arrive after Election Day.

Williams, who was a key writer of state voting laws during more than 20 years as a Republican legislator, said she supported the deadline as a way to bring closure to an election.

“I truly believe that day is Election Day and that should be it,” she said. “It is like any deadline if you move it three or four days, then you are still going to have people who are going to wait until then and it’s going to be late.”

Another federal judge last month rejected an attempt to force Indiana election officials to allow all voters to cast their ballots by mail because of the pandemic.

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and other GOP leaders have turned aside calls from Democrats and others to lift Indiana’s mail-in voting limits, which allow people to vote by mail only if they fall into one of several categories, including being 65 or older or being absent from their home counties on Election Day.

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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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