Politics

Indiana coalition pushes for extension of no-excuse absentee ballot to general election

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — With 99 days until the general election, an Indianapolis coalition is working to make sure voting is safe during the pandemic.

Nine local agencies make up the coalition, whose goal is to get state officials to extend no-excuse absentee voting. If not, supporters say it could put voters at risk, and suppress the vote for disabled, minority and low-income voters.

In Indiana, voters must generally provide one of several specific reasons to request an absentee ballot.

The countdown to the 2020 general election is inching closer. Alongside key issues concerning voters is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“We can’t keep business as usual in the mist of a pandemic. I think it’s essential that we make sure and ensure the safety of Hoosiers,” said Rima Shahid with Women 4 Change.

Shahid, along with Julia Vaughn of Common Cause, are part of a coalition of groups urging government leaders to expand the no-excuse absentee ballot order. Forty-one states already have that option.

“We know that this pandemic is not going away. It hasn’t gone away. it hasn’t eased up over the summer as some of us thought it might,” said Vaughn. “We fully expect that the same conditions that are in place today will be around in November.”

Typically, Indiana has specific exceptions when it comes to who can qualify for an absentee ballot. Back in June, under the “stay at home” order, those exceptions were lifted. But as COVID-19 numbers continue to climb, supporters of the move say the time is now to make a decision.

“We are particularly concerned about those voters who would face a much tougher time than some other folks in terms of physically getting to the polling place on Election Day,” Vaughn said.

She and Shahid said voter suppression issues including long lines, access to fewer voting polls and malfunctioning voting equipment have been an issue for minority, low-income voters and disabled voters. Those have created challenges and steps are needed to ensure that suppression doesn’t dig deeper.

“The vote is the most powerful non-violent instrument or tool that we have in our democratic society. And we must make it easy and simple for people to do that,” Shahid said, quoting the late Congressman John Lewis.

Gov. Eric Holcomb said he’ll be listening to state Election Commission recommendations. The commission says a meeting has not been set yet by the chair to determine guidelines.

And the Marion County Election Board says they are planning to open more polling locations and implement more safety measures.

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