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Federal judge rejects Indiana absentee voting law, extending ballot deadline

A federal judge has 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.

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The Tuesday evening 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.



a stack of flyers on a table: Stacks of envelopes prepare to be stuffed with absentee ballots at the Marion County election board service center in Indianapolis on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. Because seasonal election workers are processing thousands of applications, there is room for human error. Election board leaders encourage voters who qualify for an absentee ballot to send their applications early and bring ballot errors to the board's attention as soon as possible.


© Jenna Watson/IndyStar
Stacks of envelopes prepare to be stuffed with absentee ballots at the Marion County election board service center in Indianapolis on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. Because seasonal election workers are processing thousands of applications, there is room for human error. Election board leaders encourage voters who qualify for an absentee ballot to send their applications early and bring ballot errors to the board’s attention as soon as possible.

Julia Vaughn, policy director at government watchdog Common Cause Indiana, said the ruling was “a huge win for Hoosier voters.”

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“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, which filed the lawsuit, 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

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