Yesterday, the Indiana State Conference of the NAACP and Common Cause Indiana filed a federal lawsuit challenging Indiana’s early deadline of noon on Election Day to receive mail-in ballots during the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. The plaintiffs are being represented in the case by Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Indianapolis attorneys Bill Groth and Mark Sniderman.
The complaint seeks to block enforcement of Indiana’s early ballot return deadline. The plaintiffs argue that given the pandemic and issues related to the rapid expansion of mail-in voting, including the surge of requests for mail-in ballots, strained resources for election administrators, and mail delays, any ballot that is postmarked by Election Day and received within a reasonable amount of time should count.
“Indiana has seen a surge in requests for mail-in ballots and now we must make sure all those voters who chose to vote by mail to protect their health do not face barriers in making their voice heard,” said Julia Vaughn, policy director at Common Cause Indiana. “As we saw in the June 2020 primary, there were delays in processing mail-in ballot requests and many mail-in ballots were delivered late. Thousands of Hoosiers then correctly filled out and mailed their ballots by Election Day, but their votes were not counted because of Indiana’s burdensome return deadline. We must remove this barrier to voting before the November general election.
“Voting is fundamental to our democracy; it is a right that must be protected and encouraged,” said Barbara Bolling-Williams, President of the NAACP Indiana State Conference. “The arbitrary receipt deadline of noon on Election Day for mail-in ballots is a barrier to this right. A ballot entrusted to the United States Postal Service quite possibly may not be delivered until 12:01 PM, or after, on Election Day. The best practice is to look for the date that the ballot was posted. So long as it was posted, prior to or on Election Day, it must be counted.””
“Indiana has one of the earliest deadlines in the country, and it makes no sense to maintain it especially during this unprecedented pandemic,” said Jenny Terrell, attorney at Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. “Election authorities have the power and the responsibility to fix this before thousands of people are disenfranchised in November.”
“Indiana’s early absentee ballot return deadline places voters at the mercy of forces beyond their control to see if their vote is going to count,” said Ezra Rosenberg, co-Director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Particularly this year, when in order to protect themselves from the coronavirus, voters will be voting by absentee ballot in numbers larger than ever before, if Indiana’s law is not struck down, thousands of Hoosiers stand to be disenfranchised.”