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UPDATE: Federal court rules ballots must be delivered by noon Election Day



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Stickers that read "I Voted By Mail" sit on a table waiting to be stuffed into envelopes by absentee ballot election workers at the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections office Sept. 4 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Indiana Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the state must count all absentee ballots postmarked on or before Election Day. Tribune News Service

Update 11:17 p.m. Oct. 13: A federal appeals court decided Tuesday to repeal a decision made by a district court to extend the date by which absentee votes could be received. Now, mail-in ballots must be received by noon on Nov. 3 to be counted.

An order that would have called for all Indiana mail-in ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 to be counted as long as the local election board receives them by Nov. 13 was stopped. Last Friday, the state of Indiana filed a notice of appeal and requested a stop to this ruling. According to court documents filed on Tuesday, the stay was ordered for the court to consider the defendants’ appeal.

The lawsuit, brought by plaintiff Common Cause Indiana, states although the Indiana Election Commission voted against expanding eligibility to vote by mail, a record number of people will still vote by mail this election. This increase combined with the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on the U.S. Postal Service have slowed down services from the organization, according to a document regarding the plaintiff’s argument. 

“Thousands of Indiana voters are at risk of being disenfranchised through no fault of their own because, even if they comply with Indiana’s absentee ballot application deadline and diligently complete and return their ballot upon receipt, there is still a significant likelihood that the ballot will not reach their county election board by noon on Election Day,” according to the document. 

Sarah Evans Baker,U.S. District Court Southern District of Indiana Judge, found the plaintiffs’ arguments valid, but allowed the stay to avoid a false sense of security to absentee voters.

“Indiana voters eligible to and desirous of voting by absentee ballot are encouraged to submit their applications well in advance of Indiana’s Oct. 22, 20 deadline, and, upon receipt, to prompt complete and return their absentee ballots without delay,” Barker wrote.

A federal court upheld Indiana’s mail-in voting law, which allows certain voters to cast ballots by mail, but they must have a valid reason, which can be found on the Indiana Secretary of State Election Division’s website.

In the primary election, Indiana offered a no-excuse vote-by-mail option. Officials have stated they do not plan to extend this option to the general election. 

Indiana Vote by Mail has filed a lawsuit seeking to extend this option, but U.S. District Judge James Patrick Hanlon ruled against it in August. Indiana Vote by Mail has appealed the ruling to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Yesterday’s ruling is the latest in a growing number of federal court decisions in which judges have refused to acknowledge the substantial burdens imposed on voters by the pandemic or require the state to make adjustments in state election laws to alleviate those burdens and increase accessibility to the voting process,” Barbra Tulli, president of Indiana Vote by Mail, said in a statement on Wednesday.

Indiana State Attorney General Curtis Hill Jr. applauded the federal courts’ decisions.

“The message is starting to get through that courts should not be tinkering with election laws within a month of Election Day, even during the pandemic,” Hill said in a press release.

This story was updated Tuesday at 11:17 p.m. to reflect the latest information in the case.

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