INDIANAPOLIS – In a normal year, it wouldn't raise any eyebrows to see the Indiana Republican Party mailing out absentee ballot applications to voters around the state.
But this is 2020 – when President Donald Trump has excoriated mail-in voting, and Gov. Eric Holcomb and Secretary of State Connie Lawson have stressed how safe in-person voting is.
Indiana is also one of only six states not offering no-excuse mail-in voting in November.
The Journal Gazette received copies of a mailer sent by the Indiana Republican State Committee. It mentions no candidates and doesn't include any verbiage pushing mail-in voting or listing other voting options.
The document says to mail the application by Oct. 14, and that the election board has to receive it by Oct. 22. A completed ballot has to be at the county office by noon Nov. 3.
“Return your voted ballot immediately. Due to higher than normal absentee volume, there may be delays in the delivery and processing of your ballot,” it says.
One person who received the mailer is under age 65 – anyone above that age is automatically allowed to vote by mail – and doesn't have a history of voting by mail. A second person who contacted The Journal Gazette also is younger than 65. A third person said she is a 44-year-old Democrat who received one as well as a reminder text.
Holly Lawson, spokeswoman for Holcomb's campaign and the Indiana Republican Party, said “we know that in a regular election that many voters take advantage of absentee by-mail and early in-person voting, which you can see from prior elections.”
“Absentee voting by mail, along with early voting in person and Election Day voting, has long been a part of our get-out-the-vote plan, and this year is no different.”
But there is a pandemic and Democrats have been pushing for Holcomb and the Indiana Election Commission to expand mail-in voting as was done for the primary. Republicans have refused.
“There's nothing normal about this election. More than 100,000 Hoosiers have been infected by COVID-19, with hundreds of new cases every day,” Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody said.
“Eric Holcomb is telling us it's safe to vote in-person while quietly helping Republicans vote from the safety of their homes. Eric Holcomb is acting like he's the party boss pulling strings to win elections instead of leading for every Hoosier. His political maneuvering is putting lives at risk.”
Andrew Downs, head of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics, said it is perfectly normal for political parties to send absentee ballot applications – not ballots themselves – to narrow groups of voters. But he said he would be surprised if it were a wider mailing – especially given the expense.
The mailer is a six-panel foldout including instructions and two complete applications.
Lawson declined to provide any information on how many were sent, who was targeted or the cost of the mailing.
Downs said some might see it as going against Trump's leanings but the president has also said mail-in voting works well in some states.
“On the one hand it's a voter contact and just happens to have an absentee ballot application attached to it,” he said. “There is no one single way to increase voter turnout and voter participation. It is easy for the governor to say it is just making people aware of the options.”
Allen County Director of Elections Beth Dlug sent a statement Tuesday acknowledging that voters might receive unsolicited applications to vote by mail from Republicans and Democrats. If you already requested one from the clerk, there is no need to fill out a second form.
“I want to assure voters that the political parties do, as a regular practice, send out applications for mailed absentee ballots before a general election,” Dlug said. “These are applications for a ballot, not the actual ballot, so voters should not be concerned if they get them in the mail if they have not asked for one. These are legitimate applications and can be used to request a ballot.”
She noted the return address on the Republican mailer is in Indianapolis and suggested voters send them directly to the local office to cut down on handling and mailing time.
The first round of ballots in Allen County will be sent Sept. 18. Over 13,000 absentee ballot applications have already been approved by the Allen County Election Board for the Nov. 3 election.
By comparison, that is already more than everyone who voted by mail in Allen County in the general election. That number was 10,489.