Mark bennett

Mark Bennett

Hoosiers’ resourcefulness hasn’t disappeared in the pandemic.

Indiana residents’ participation in the option to vote by mail in the upcoming June 2 primary reinforces that ingenuity.

Last Friday, Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson described the participation in absentee voting by mail, up to that point, during Gov. Eric Holcomb’s update on the COVID-19 coronavirus situation. The numbers were impressive. They showed thousands of Hoosiers are accepting of an alternative to casting ballots in the traditional manner.

Indiana suspended its requirement for voters to provide a valid excuse for requesting an absentee ballot for next month’s primary. The change to open up the absentee vote-by-mail option to all registered voters was made to protect people from having to gather in close proximity at polling sites for in-person voting. With state, national and local public health officials urging folks to maintain social distancing, with six feet between individuals, the newly expanded vote-by-mail opportunity appealed to many.

Lawson said 330,657 residents had filled out and returned absentee vote ballots to county clerks offices in Indiana.

That compares to 53,818 people who cast votes by mail in the 2016 Indiana primary.

The deadline ended Thursday for Hoosiers to apply for an absentee vote-by-mail ballot from their county clerks office.

Lawson emphasized the value of that option during the news conference last week.

“One of the most effective ways to protect yourself and keep your poll workers safe is to vote absentee by mail,” Lawson said that afternoon in comments reported by the Times of Northwest Indiana. “I encourage all voters to vote absentee in the June 2 primary.”

Her endorsement of the process clearly places logic and health concerns for Hoosiers above electoral politics and outdated partisan stereotypes. The two-term Republican said she didn’t consider moving Indiana to an exclusively vote-by-mail system for the primary. Lawson wanted those who consider in-person voting at a polling both a “sacred rite” to have that opportunity.

Gov. Holcomb said last Friday that he is among that group. Holcomb said he intended to participate in early voting in person, to avoid crowds at the polls, the Times reported.

The governor also said voting by mail is the smartest option this spring. He told the Times, “Thankfully, we have lots of options to vote safely.”

Lawson took no stance on whether vote-by-mail will be open again to all Indiana registered voters, no excuse necessary, this fall. Instead, Lawson said the state would assess the absentee voting by mail after the primary, consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state public health officials, and then decide on allowing that option for the Nov. 3 general election.

That’s a sound plan, and one that rises above a purely political based stance, such as the inaccurate rhetoric coming from President Donald Trump on the vote-by-mail process.

With a longtime predominance of conservative residents in Indiana, the vote-by-mail numbers indicate Hoosiers of various party preferences have embraced that format in this pandemic era.

“We are to a point in virtually every county where the mail-in ballots, alone, will probably exceed the early-voting totals, plus the mail-in vote totals, from [2016’s primary]. And 2016 was kind of an exceptional year, because we had an exciting presidential primary going on,” said Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics in Fort Wayne. “If you look at 2012, which is maybe a little more like what 2020 is, we are well in excess of the early votes plus mail-in votes of 2012.”

So, a tip of the hat to all the county clerks offices across Indiana that are embracing the vote-by-mail process and determined to make it work effectively for the safety of registered voters who don’t want to have to choose between their health and the most cherished exercise of democracy, voting.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

Mark Bennett has reported and analyzed news from the Wabash Valley and beyond since Larry Bird wore Sycamore blue. That role with the Tribune-Star has taken him from Rome to Alaska and many points in between, but Terre Haute suits him best.

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