Federal judge rejects Indiana absentee voting law, extending ballot deadline
A federal judge Tuesday evening rejected Indiana's noon Election Day deadline to receive absentee ballots, allowing Hoosiers more time to mail in absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 presidential election.
The ruling from U.S. Southern Indiana District Judge Sarah Evans Barker means absentee ballots postmarked on or before Nov. 3 and received on or before Nov. 13 will be counted.
Julia Vaughn, policy director at government watchdog Common Cause Indiana, the group that filed the suit, called the ruling "a huge win for Hoosier voters."
"We've seen several rulings over the past couple of weeks from the federal courts, but I think the impact from this is probably going to be the biggest," Vaughn said.
Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill's office told IndyStar on Wednesday they were "reviewing and considering our options."
Common Cause Indiana said that the Nov. 3 noon absentee deadline constituted "an undue burden on the fundamental right to vote" during the coronavirus pandemic, according to court documents.
Barker in her decision rejected an argument that allowing an extra 10 days to receive ballots would undermine the election process.
Rather, she said ensuring all valid absentee ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 "should in fact help assuage" concerns over the legitimacy of the results.
"The burden imposed by Indiana's noon Election Day receipt deadline, which threatens to disenfranchise thousands of eligible absentee voters for reasons that, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, are outside their control, is very substantial," Barker wrote.
Barker also dismissed arguments that the extended deadline would lead to more absentee ballots cast, overwhelming election officials who must count them.
"We find that this additional administrative strain is not so compelling as to outweigh the burden faced by voters," she wrote.
"An order extending the noon Election Day receipt deadline for mail-in absentee ballots is straightforward and does not affect the procedure a voter must follow to properly submit an absentee mail-in ballot," she said in the decision. "There is no impact on the voting process itself, nor any real risk of voter confusion or dissuasion from casting a ballot."
A number of Indiana laws regarding voting procedures are under review by the federal court.
In August, the court ruled that the state cannot purge voters with suspected address changes from election rolls until they notify voters and wait at least two election cycles before removing them if they don't respond. Common Cause Indiana was also the plaintiff in that case.
Last week, a federal judge struck down an Indiana voting law amendment from 2019 that would have barred voters from being able to request that polling places stay open longer. Hill filed a motion in court Tuesday to freeze that ruling.
Vaughn expects Hill's office will challenge Tuesday evening's ruling as well. "Judge Barker's decision is very strong. I think she makes a very rational and reasoned case for why Hoosier voters deserve easing the deadline," she said.
"They're defending bad laws so I think that ultimately we have a very good chance of prevailing," Vaughn added.
In another case, Indiana Vote By Mail, a nonprofit advocacy group, and a group of voters asked the federal court to freeze an age restriction on absentee voting for the November election. They appealed their case to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals after a federal judge denied their request, saying that Indiana's absentee voting age restriction doesn't violate the U.S. Constitution. That case is pending.
Call Johnny Magdaleno at 317-273-3188 or email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @IndyStarJohnny