In two-thirds of U.S. states, registered voters concerned about encountering crowds at the polls this fall have an easy alternative — no-excuse voting by mail.
Some conduct elections primarily by mail. Others states are allowing any registered voter to apply for an absentee ballot to vote by mail amid the spreading coronavirus pandemic.
Indiana is among the few states conducting the Nov. 3 election without no-excuse voting by mail. Most are considered red states — solid bases for the Republican Party, now led by President Trump, who claims without evidence that voting by mail will lead to "massive electoral fraud," except in his new home state of Florida, where he has voted absentee by mail.
Back here in Indiana, Hoosiers will need to prepare to cast ballots in person, unless they qualify for one of the previously established 11 excuses to vote absentee by mail.
A record 552,197 Indiana residents voted absentee by mail in the June primary. State officials suspended the requirement for an excuse to do so, and Hoosiers overwhelmingly responded. Last month, the Indiana Election Commission declined along party lines to implement a similar easing of voting restrictions this fall.
So, anyone hoping to vote by mail needs to qualify for one of the 11 state-approved excuses. Registered voters can request an absentee vote-by-mail ballot if they — will be absent from their home county during all 12 polling hours on Election Day; have a disability; are 65 or older; have Election Day duties outside their home precinct; will be working through all 12 polling hours on Election Day; will be confined because of illness or injury, or caring for someone confined for the entire Election Day; have a religious event throughout Election Day; are a participant in the state's address confidentiality program; are a military member or public safety officer; a state registered sex offender; or have no transportation to the polls.
Vigo Countians who meet those criteria can call the Absentee Voting Office at 812-462-3235 or go online to IndianaVoters.com to apply for a vote-by-mail ballot. Those ballot applications must be received by the county by Oct. 22, so do not wait. Then, once a voter receives their ballot from the county, mail it in promptly.
Everyone one else — including many people who voted by mail in June — should plan to cast ballots in person this time. Given that the easier and safer option of voting by mail will not be possible for many this fall, early voting will likely be the wisest alternative.
Vigo County will have 18 vote centers, down from 21 sites in the 2018 election. Despite that negative, three early voting centers will be open 28 days prior to Election Day, rather than just one voting center, as was the case in 2018. Those three sites — Haute City Center mall, The Meadows basement and the Vigo County Annex — open Oct. 6. Five other early voting centers open Oct. 27 — IBEW Local 725, National Guard Armory, Operating Engineers, Vigo Solid Waste Management District and West Vigo Elementary.
Those eight sites will be open on Election Day, as will 10 others — Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 157, Booker T. Washington Center, Vigo County Public Library, Indiana State University Student Union, Pimento Firehouse, Boot City Opry, Maryland Community Church, Sandcut Firehouse, American Legion Post 104 and New Goshen Firehouse.
With public health officials expecting a rise in coronavirus infections in late fall, Vigo Countians concerned about avoiding indoor crowds should take advantage of the earliest early-voting opportunities. The two shopping centers offer more space for social distancing. Voters planning to cast ballots on Election Day may want to consider rural vote centers, which tend to be less busy but may require a longer drive.
Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson said counties are working to make sites as sanitary as possible. Gov. Eric Holcomb's executive order calls for face-mask wearing in indoor public spaces. Let us hope the governor's call is well heeded.