Indiana Must Count Mail-In Ballots Postmarked By Election Day, Rules Federal Judge

Sep 30, 2020

A federal judge is forcing Indiana to count all mail-in ballots that are postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 3, as long as they arrive to county clerks by Nov. 13.
Credit Lauren Chapman / IPB News

A federal judge is forcing Indiana to count all mail-in ballots that are postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 3, as long as they arrive to county clerks by Nov. 13.

That ruling comes in a lawsuit brought by Common Cause Indiana and the Indiana NAACP.

Indiana law only allows mail-in ballots to be counted if they physically arrive at the county election administrator’s office by noon on Election Day.

In Indiana’s primary this year, thousands of otherwise valid ballots were rejected because they came in after the deadline. And even without expanded vote-by-mail this election, Indiana expects a record number of mail-in ballots. Common Cause Indiana and the Indiana NAACP argued the "arbitrary" deadline will deprive thousands of their constitutional right to vote.

The state argued its deadline was necessary to help ensure orderly administration of its elections. But federal judge Sarah Evans Barker disagreed. She noted that Indiana already allows overseas voters' mail-in ballots to be counted if they come in up to 10 days after the election.

Indiana officials also posited that the election system offers enough options to voters that changing the deadline is unnecessary. They said Hoosiers could always vote in-person – both early and on Election Day. Voters choosing the mail-in option could do so well ahead of time or even hand deliver their mail-in ballots to their county election administrator.

Barker also waved aside that argument.

"The State cannot offer absentee voting by mail and then tell voters who choose it and abide by the statutory rules that they should have chosen differently because of delays over which they have no control," Barker said in the ruling.

READ MORE: Can I Vote By Mail? Here's What You Need To Know For Indiana's Elections

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The state argued that the deadline shouldn't be changed because, if voters are disenfranchised, it's not the state's fault, but rather the COVID-19 and the U.S. Postal Service that are to blame. But Barker said the state’s election system sets up voters to fail this year because of the impact of the ongoing pandemic on, for instance, the U.S. Postal Service.

And Indiana's position in the case was also that the deadline should remain in place to help ensure timely election results, arguing if results were delayed, voters would lose confidence in the election system.

Barker was similarly unmoved by that argument.

"[The State has] not shown how ensuring that all otherwise valid absentee ballots cast by Election Day are counted threatens to undermine public confidence in the legitimacy of the final results; rather, it should in fact help assuage such concerns," Barker said in the ruling.

Barker did acknowledge that counting ballots that arrive after Election Day could cause a greater strain on county clerks around the state. But she said those burdens were far outweighed by the risk of disenfranchisement of so many Hoosiers.

Contact reporter Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.