INDIANAPOLIS — There’s a forecast that is predicting that up to 1.8 million Hoosiers will vote by mail via absentee ballot for the coming general election.
This comes during a pandemic that has stricken more than 90,000 of us in cases documented by the Indiana State Board of Health and killed more than 3,000 Hoosiers.
While Gov. Eric Holcomb and Secretary of State Connie Lawson signed off on expanded, no-excuse absentee voting for the pandemic-delayed June 2 primary election, the state is sticking to its rules for the general.
“I want to make it clear that we are going forward with a normal election process here in Indiana,” said Lawson, who is not granting press interviews due to litigation. “We will not be making changes like we did in the primary since the stay-at-home order has been lifted.”
Earlier this month, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Woody Myers and attorney general nominee Jonathan Weinzapfel called for an extension of the no-excuse absentee voting.
“Indiana is one of only eight states that do not allow all voters to vote safely by mail in times of a pandemic,” they said in a statement. More than 500,000 people voted absentee in May and June. Weinzapfel added, “An overwhelming number of Hoosiers have been calling for safer voting options. With the election fast-approaching, our Indiana counties need direction now.”
President Trump has consistently said that voting by mail is corrupt and will “rig” the election, even though he and Vice President Pence as well as many U.S. military servicemen and women abroad vote that way.
“Mail ballots, they cheat,” Trump said earlier this month. “Mail ballots are very dangerous for this country because of cheaters. They go collect them. They are fraudulent in many cases.”
But Secretary Lawson served on Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which was formed in the spring of 2017 and disbanded less than a year later, finding zero evidence of election fraud of any kind.
Gov. Holcomb isn’t alleging voter fraud. He just says that it’s a question that needs to be addressed by the Indiana General Assembly.
"Obviously, we were under a stay-at-home order statewide that was Exhibit A, if you will," he said of expanded, no-excuse absentee balloting during the primary. "Exhibit B is we are very open right now in the State of Indiana and so to make that kind of drastic change on the fly while we are mobile would be inappropriate. Now that is a discussion worth having for all kinds of various reasons. I look forward to having it in January when we have statewide input."
I view Indiana absentee voting rules similar to the old “out of state” fireworks laws. Remember those? When you bought a bag of bottle rockets or firecrackers, you had to sign a piece of paper saying you would take them to another state before firing them off (wink-wink).
Current absentee ballot rules give voters wide variance, whether it’s being age 65, you have a disability, lack transportation to the polls, you are following a “religious discipline,” you have to work or travel on Election Day, you’re a “serious sex offender” or in the witness protection program. As long as you don’t say you can’t vote because you’re washing your hair on Nov. 3, the state is prepared to give you an absentee ballot.
And many folks are doing so, whether you're from a Republican county like Hamilton or Bartholomew, or a Democratic county like Marion. All are reporting a significant increase in absentee requests.
Lawson said 99,146 absentee ballots have been sought for the general election as of last Wednesday, compared to 53,818 for the entire 2016 election.
“We still expect an influx of absentee vote by mail ballots. We have a forecast that predicts that between 1.3 million and 1.8 million will vote absentee by mail this general election," she said. "We are working with the Post Office to ensure that ballots are prioritized by the Postal Service and are received in a timely manner. The Post Office is helping counties design envelopes so mail sorters or carriers can easily identify election mail and prioritize its delivery to voters and to the counties when a voter returns a ballot.”
While there has been talk of the new postmaster general “sabotaging” the election by removing dozens of mail sorters, the United State Postal Service handles more volume leading up to Mother’s Day than it does during an election.
Lawson urged Hoosiers to request absentee ballots by Oct. 19 and return them by Oct. 27. But, she added, “My sage advice would be don’t wait. If you know you’re going to vote by mail, apply today.”
So there you go. In an election that President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden are saying is for the "soul of America" and, perhaps, the most important one in history, there are options - even here in Indiana - to vote by mail.
One other important note: Because more people are going to vote by mail (there are estimates that 75 percent of Americans could vote that way), we may not know who won the presidential race for several days or even up to a week. Don't take the delay of results as a sign of a rigged election.
It’s just the new reality.
The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.