INDIANAPOLIS (AP): A federal appeals court has rejected a lawsuit that aimed to make mail-in ballots available to all Indiana voters for the November election because of the coronavirus pandemic, ruling that the limits included in state law don’t violate voters’ constitutional rights.
The record number of Indiana residents voting by mail this fall were warned to return their ballots in time to meet a noon Election Day deadline to be counted as a judge in a separate lawsuit put an extension she had ordered on hold.
A three-judge panel of 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld a judge’s August ruling that state officials had discretion in how to allow mail voting and that voters not wanting to cast ballots on Election Day could go to early voting sites for nearly a month before then.
“The court recognizes the difficulties that might accompany in-person voting during this time,” the ruling said. “But Indiana’s absentee-voting laws are not to blame. It’s the pandemic, not the State, that might affect Plaintiffs’ determination to cast a ballot.”
Voting rights groups and both political parties have contested election rules in many states, with many lawsuits over expanding access to mail-in voting. More than 200 lawsuits have been filed across the country over voting procedures.
The group Indiana Vote By Mail and several voters concerned about the risks of COVID-19 exposure at polling stations sued elections officials in April, seeking a court order to extend the no-excuse mail-in balloting that Indiana allowed for the spring primary to the general election.
Indiana’s mail-in voting limits 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.
The appeals court rejected arguments that the Indiana law wrongly forced residents under 65 to risk their health to vote.
Barbara Tully, the president of Indiana Vote By Mail, criticized the appeals court for endangering voters even as its judges hold hearings remotely.
“Yesterday’s ruling is the latest in a growing number of federal court decisions in which judges, sitting in the comfort and safety of their own homes, have refused to acknowledge the substantial burdens imposed on voters by the pandemic or require the states to make adjustments in state election laws to alleviate those burdens,” Tully said.
In the separate lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker halted implementation Tuesday of an order she issued last week telling 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.
Barker wrote that she didn’t want to give voters “a false sense of security” as state officials are asking the federal appeals court to overturn her decision against the noon Election Day deadline for mail-in ballots to arrive at county election offices.
“Indiana voters eligible to and desirous of voting by absentee ballot are encouraged to submit their applications well in advance of Indiana’s October 22, 2020 deadline, and, upon receipt, to promptly complete and return their absentee ballots without delay,” Barker wrote.
In a similar Wisconsin lawsuit, a three-judge panel of the same appeals court last week upheld a judge’s decision ordering a six-day extension for counting absentee ballots, meaning that ballots postmarked on or before Nov. 3 will be counted as long as they are received by Nov. 9. Republicans have asked the full 11-member court to review the ruling.