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: 735462

Reported Deaths: 13480
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1006161752
Lake54169976
Allen40913680
St. Joseph36301553
Hamilton35807408
Elkhart28815442
Tippecanoe22464219
Vanderburgh22367397
Porter18921310
Johnson18063381
Hendricks17310315
Clark13032192
Madison12754339
Vigo12497249
LaPorte12073215
Monroe11945170
Delaware10750187
Howard9985218
Kosciusko9463117
Hancock8367142
Bartholomew8096156
Warrick7797155
Floyd7686178
Grant7094174
Wayne7069199
Boone6740101
Morgan6606139
Dubois6165117
Marshall6108112
Cass5886105
Dearborn583178
Henry5779105
Noble565084
Jackson503473
Shelby494196
Lawrence4591120
Gibson436892
Harrison436472
DeKalb430485
Clinton428453
Montgomery425789
Whitley397939
Huntington394280
Steuben391057
Miami383768
Knox372890
Jasper372049
Putnam363360
Wabash355280
Adams342655
Ripley340870
Jefferson331881
White316854
Daviess298399
Wells292081
Decatur285992
Fayette281962
Greene280485
Posey272034
LaGrange268870
Scott267454
Clay261147
Washington242132
Randolph242081
Spencer232731
Jennings230949
Starke218954
Fountain213746
Sullivan212242
Owen203056
Jay197630
Fulton196140
Carroll190220
Orange184454
Perry184437
Rush174025
Vermillion170044
Franklin168435
Tipton163345
Parke146716
Pike135334
Blackford135132
Pulaski117345
Newton108834
Brown102641
Crawford101415
Benton99014
Martin89515
Warren82615
Switzerland7948
Union71410
Ohio57111
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