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Indiana mail-in absentee voting questions could have been resolved two years ago

Indiana mail-in absentee voting questions could have been resolved two years ago

Indiana could eliminate excuse requirement for voting absentee by mail

State Sen. Frank Mrvan, D-Hammond, seated right, presents his plan for no-excuse absentee voting to the Senate Elections Committee on Jan. 8, 2018, at the Statehouse. Senate Bill 250 was approved by the Republican-controlled Senate but failed to advance in the Republican-controlled House.

The question of whether Hoosiers can vote by mail solely due to the coronavirus pandemic would not even be an issue today if Indiana lawmakers had listened two years ago to state Sen. Frank Mrvan, D-Hammond.

In 2018, the Republican-controlled Senate overwhelmingly approved Mrvan's proposal to authorize "no excuse" absentee voting, which would have allowed every registered voter to cast their ballot by mail without having to identify one of 13 statutory excuses for mail-in voting, such as being out of town on Election Day, or being confined due to illness.

Long before the coronavirus pandemic, Mrvan sought to eliminate the excuse required to vote by mail to improve Indiana's generally lackluster voter turnout by making it easier for more Hoosiers to participate in the democratic process.

"I think the absentee ballot is very, very important, and we should broaden it so everybody has the opportunity and there's no excuse for anybody not to vote," Mrvan told the Senate Elections Committee on Jan. 9, 2018.

Senate Bill 250 eventually passed the Senate 39-10, with 29 Republicans and all nine Democrats supporting the proposal.

However, the measure wasn't even considered by the Republican-controlled House because state Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, chairman of the House Elections and Apportionment Committee, decided the change was not needed since he said no county election official ever checks whether the excuse a voter is required to provide to vote absentee by mail is legitimate.

"I don't think we need to change the law when it's working now," Smith said in 2018. "If nobody is being denied, why change it?"

Popular in primary

Records show more than a half-million Hoosiers voted by mail in the June primary election after Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and the Indiana Election Commission suspended the excuse requirement due to voter fears of catching COVID-19 at polling places.

But Holcomb said earlier this month he's not inclined to allow no-excuse mail-in voting for the Nov. 3 general election because Hoosiers safely leaving their homes to go to work and school, shop and eat in restaurants amid the coronavirus pandemic also can vote in-person at an early voting site or on Election Day.

In contrast, Mrvan believes the governor has an obligation to immediately make mail-in voting available to all Hoosiers as soon as possible so counties have time to prepare for the anticipated high demand for mail-in ballots.

"Daily COVID-19 cases are twice as bad now as they were when Indiana decided to allow everyone to vote by no-excuse absentee ballot in the primary," Mrvan said Monday.

"So, what are we waiting on now? Hoosiers shouldn't be forced to risk their health to vote — not this November, not ever."

Sen. Mrvan is the father of North Township Trustee Frank J. Mrvan, the Democratic nominee seeking to represent Northwest Indiana in Congress.

Gallery: NWI votes on delayed primary date

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