By Senator Eddie D. Melton, Indiana Senate District 3
Our state is working hard to deal with the impact the novel coronavirus is having on the lives of Hoosiers. Among many things interrupted by the rise and spread of COVID-19 are this year’s elections. With Hoosiers being ordered to stay home and businesses being closed to slow the spread of the virus, operating in-person elections as usual is not an option.
That is why I support the Indiana Election Commission’s decision to move our primary election to June 2 and to permit every Hoosier to request an absentee ballot to vote by mail—no excuse needed. These are necessary steps that will help combat low voter turnout and ensure that more Hoosiers have the ability to vote in the 2020 primary election.
Still, I believe we can and must do more.
Before this announcement, in order to vote by mail, voters were required by law to print and mail an application for a ballot that explains why they can’t vote in person. These are unnecessary barriers to voters’ constitutional rights. While I support removing the requirement that a voter needs a state-defined excuse to request a ballot by mail, another barrier to voting remains.
Indiana should further remove the step that requires Hoosiers to print and mail in applications for a ballot by proactively mailing these applications to all registered voters. States like Iowa have already announced that they will be doing just that to ensure comprehensive accessibility for their voters.
It’s imperative that during this pandemic—as well as after—we fight not just to prevent voter suppression but to encourage voter turnout.
These uncertain times have forced us to make bold decisions to protect our state. They have forced us to navigate new territory and implement unprecedented changes. But, I believe they have also shown us what we are capable of, and opened the door to possibilities for advancing our state that have been overlooked or dismissed in the past.
There’s no question that Covid-19 has created unique circumstances threatening every Hoosier’s ability to vote in person. However, allowing no-excuse vote-by-mail isn’t a decision that should only be made in response to a public health crisis.
As state leaders, we can choose to stay the course and take this as an opportunity to continue updating our election laws and eradicating barriers that block people from voting. Allowing no-excuse, absentee voting to remain a permanent option for Hoosiers is the perfect first step to accomplishing that.
As Hoosiers and the State of Indiana work to rebuild our economy after this pandemic, a true vote-by-mail policy would not only make voting more accessible, but it would also save taxpayer dollars. Other states have already made this leap and have seen success. For example, Colorado overhauled their election process several years ago by mandating that mail-in ballots be sent to every registered voter for most elections.
Colorado also offered voter services and polling centers where any county resident could cast their vote. These changes led to a decrease in the use of provisional ballots and a 40 percent decrease in costs. A survey of in-person and mail-in Colorado voters showed that more than 95 percent of the people questioned found their voting experience satisfying or very satisfying.
As states like ours scramble to respond to the coronavirus by pushing back elections and making mail-in ballots more accessible, states like Iowa and Colorado were prepared by having election reforms already on the books.
Reforming their election process had a profound impact on the ease with which their residents voted, reduced election costs, decreased provisional ballot use and increased accessibility for voters.
Their process is a model for election efficiency, and I call on our state to implement all vote-by-mail elections in the future to bring that access and efficiency to Indiana.
Our efforts to hastily respond to the threat the pandemic posed to our election has made it abundantly clear that our election laws are not as effective as they could be, and the time to reform Indiana’s election process is now.