Thousands of Indiana voters are likely to have their mail-in ballots rejected this November solely because they were received after noon on Election Day – through no fault of their own, according to a federal motion filed yesterday in federal court 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 Indiana State Conference of the NAACP and Common Cause Indiana are asking for a preliminary injunction to block enforcement of Indiana’s noon Election Day mail-in ballot deadline during the state’s November 3 election.
”This is not what democracy looks like,” said Kristen Clarke president and executive director at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “During the June primary elections, Hoosier voters saw their right to vote disrupted during the pandemic. Now they face further delays because of recent changes in USPS operation and the delivery of mail-in ballots.
“The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has caused a perfect storm for mail delays,” said attorney Jenny Terrell at Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. “That doesn’t have to translate into mass disenfranchisement.”
The plaintiffs motion asks the Court to require the counting of all ballots postmarked by Election Day and received up to ten days after Election Day – the period Indiana already provides for the counting of provisional ballots and mail-in ballots from overseas voters. The original lawsuit was filed on July 30 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.
“The noon Election Day deadline serves no purpose and threatens to disenfranchise tens of thousands of Hoosiers this fall,” said Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause Indiana. “An injunction is needed to protect Hoosier voters from being disenfranchised through no fault of their own and at the hands of an unnecessary administrative barrier. It is clear that only a court order will stop this widespread disenfranchisement of voters who cast a mail-in ballot.”
Since taking over as postmaster general on June 15, Louis DeJoy has made sweeping changes that further reduce the United States Postal Service’s (USPS) operational capacity, already significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. These changes have already negatively impacted the daily postal operations in states like Indiana. DeJoy’s actions include eliminating overtime; instructing workers to leave mail behind for the next day; freezing the hiring of new workers; and removing hundreds of high-volume sorting machines and neighborhood mailboxes in states across the county, including Indiana.
Delays that were already evident in primary elections earlier in the year have become more significant, affecting mail-in ballots as well as medication and other essential mail. Despite this evidence – and a recent letter sent by USPS to Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson warning of disenfranchisement due to the deadline – the Indiana Election Commission has refused to extend the absentee ballot receipt deadline for the November 3 election. In a meeting on Friday, commissioners claimed they would not consider extending the deadline until the lawsuit was resolved – despite the fact that the lawsuit simply requests the court to order the commission to extend the deadline under its existing authority.
“While the early deadline risks depriving all Hoosiers of their right to vote, the risk of disenfranchisement is particularly pronounced for young voters and voters of color,” said Barbara Bolling-Williams, President of the NAACP Indiana State Conference. “We demand a secure, safe, and accessible election.”
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