The Journal Gazette
Thursday, March 19, 2020 1:00 am

State might ease absentee voting

Party chairs send request to election panel

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – State political party officials are working together to try to make it easier for Hoosiers to vote using a mail-in absentee ballot as the coronavirus continues to shut down society.

Current guidelines call for limiting gatherings and events to 10 or fewer people – and Hoosiers all over the state are working from home and keeping their distance from others to slow the spread of COVID-19.

There hasn't yet been talk about postponing the election, as Ohio did this week.

Indiana Republican Party Chairman Kyle Hupfer and Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody penned a letter together last week to the Indiana Election Commission, which hasn't responded.

“The coronavirus pandemic is causing all of us to consider precautionary measures related to group gatherings and general interaction with other people, and Election Day is no exception. We recognize that risk to the general public is currently low; however, primary voters may have a legitimate concern about voting in person; either absentee at the clerk's office or on Election Day,” the joint letter said.

“For their safety, the safety of poll workers, absentee voter board members, and election administrators, and the safety of all Hoosiers, allowing maximum flexibility, while preserving a citizen's right to vote, is paramount. Broadening the absentee ballot process to allow any registered voter to vote absentee is a prudent measure.”

They specifically are asking the election commission to allow anyone to vote via a mail-in absentee ballot. Current law requires voters to be out of town or disabled or provide another reason. Other states have no-fault mail-in absentee voting.

The election commission has the legal authority to open up that flexibility with a unanimous vote of the four-member panel. Two Republicans and two Democrats serve.

Zody and Hupfer also want to push back the absentee-by-mail application deadline, currently 12 days before an election, or April 23. They didn't choose a specific new date, saying it would be up to the commission. 

“Maintaining the integrity of our elections and preserving a citizen's right to vote, even under difficult circumstances, is the bedrock of our republic,” the letter said. “Allowing for this one-time accommodation for absentee voting processes in the May primary is a responsible measure and one that we support.”

Gov. Eric Holcomb's office said he agrees with the requests made by Zody and Hupfer.

“The health and safety of Hoosiers is the governor's main concern,” spokeswoman Rachel Hoffmeyer said. “The outbreak evolves from day to day and the governor will assess as the situation changes.”

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