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Indiana Republicans Again Reject Any Expansion Of Vote-By-Mail

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Screenshot of a Zoom call
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At a remote, video meeting of the Indiana Election Commission Friday, Republicans again rejected an attempt to expand vote-by-mail for this year’s general election.

Democrats are trying to allow more Hoosiers to cast their ballots that way during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.

Indiana law only allows Hoosiers to vote absentee by mail for 11 reasons, including if they're 65 or older or if they'll be absent from their county the entire time polls are open on Election Day. But the Election Commission expanded vote-by-mail for this year’s primary, allowing anyone who wanted one to cast their ballot by mail due to the ongoing public health crisis. 

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Now, Republican commission members question whether they can do that again, without any reason to suggest it’s not possible.

Chair Paul Okeson said there are also ongoing court cases trying to force Indiana to expand vote-by-mail.

“In my opinion, I think it’s premature for the Election Commission to take any action by voting today until the courts have had a chance to hand down their rulings in these cases,” Okeson said.

Democratic commission member Suzannah Wilson Overholt pointed out the lawsuits would largely be unnecessary if the commission acted.

And Vice Chair Anthony Long, a Democrat, said Indiana is not on the downswing of the pandemic.

“People in this situation should not have to make a choice between risking their health and exercising their right to vote,” Long said.

Indiana remains one of just seven states without expanded vote-by-mail this fall.

Overholt also argued that time is of the essence, since the U.S. Postal Service has warned it will need plenty of time to process a large influx of mail-in ballots. That might be a moot point, however, as President Donald Trump announced he will purposefully cripple the Post Office to suppress vote-by-mail.

Okeson proposed a motion during Friday's Election Commission meeting to allow Indiana counties to purchase electronic letter openers to deal with a higher-than-usual amount of mail-in ballots. Currently, only Marion County – the state's largest – can use such a machine.

But Democrats rejected that motion in retaliation after Okeson refused to allow public testimony on the need for vote-by-mail. The Election Commission chair argued it was pointless since Republicans wouldn't change their minds on the issue.

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

Brandon Smith is excited to be working for public radio in Indiana. He has previously worked in public radio as a reporter and anchor in mid-Missouri for KBIA Radio out of Columbia. Prior to that, he worked for WSPY Radio in Plano, Illinois as a show host, reporter, producer and anchor. His first job in radio was in another state capitol, in Jefferson City, Missouri, as a reporter for three radio stations around Missouri. Brandon graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2010, with minors in political science and history. He was born and raised in Chicago.