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NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Allowing voting by mail in primary is right decision

The Allen County Election Board has announced that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Indiana voters will be allowed to vote by mail in the primary election, which has been moved to June.

We think that is an appropriate option because of the need for social distancing to slow the continuing spread of the coronavirus.

The Indiana Election Commission voted unanimously to move the primary from May 5 to June 2 due to the pandemic, and Gov. Eric Holcomb announced the change on March 20. As with all things pandemic-related, the new date for the primary is also subject to change.

Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer and Democratic Chairman John Zody called for expanded absentee balloting in a joint letter to the Indiana Election Commission earlier this month, writing, “The coronavirus pandemic is causing all of us to consider precautionary measures related to group gatherings and general interaction with other people, and Election Day is no exception. For their safety, the safety of poll workers, absentee voter board members, and election administrators, and the safety of all Hoosiers, allowing maximum flexibility, while preserving a citizen’s right to vote, is paramount.”

So, in conjunction with the decision to move the date of the primary to June 2, Hupfer, Zody, Gov. Holcomb and Secretary of State Connie Lawson agreed to move all deadlines associated with the primary and to lift the state’s restrictions on voting by mail as well.

The plan temporarily suspends the state’s existing rules for casting an absentee ballot by mail. Current law only allows vote-by-mail if the person is unable to go to the polls on Election Day.

The bipartisan action allows any Hoosier voter to cast their ballots by mail in the upcoming primary, subject to the approval of county election commissions, as the Allen County Election Board has done.

“This is a historic expansion of Hoosiers’ voting rights,” Zody said in a column by Brian Howey, publisher of Howey Politics Indiana. “For the first time, any Hoosier who wants will be able to vote by mail. Hoosiers shouldn’t have to choose between putting their health at risk and exercising their constitutional right to vote.”

And it may be that the nation will need to extend such measures for the Nov. 3 general election as well. At its April 22 meeting, the Indiana Election Commission will likely turn to how the fall election should be conducted. The threat of the continuing spread of COVID-19 by then, or even a resurgence of the virus could extend the pandemic into the fall and winter.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, warned last week that COVID-19 could keep returning as a “seasonal, cyclic thing,” like the flu. “We need to be prepared that we’ll get a cycle around the second time.”

If that’s the case, could the Nov. 3 election be delayed? While states have flexibility in scheduling or postponing primary elections, delaying a national election would require a change in federal law. So maybe voting by mail is the answer.

We believe voting by mail makes sense for this year’s elections if not in normal times as well. Voting by mail is an idea long promoted by Indiana Vote by Mail (indianavotebymail.org), which supports the process as a means of preserving the integrity of our elections, which is crucial to the survival of our democracy.

We agree that Hoosiers should evaluate the effectiveness of mail-in ballots in the primary, and, if it succeeds, urge state legislators to consider using the process in future elections.

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