A federal judge on Tuesday blocked a state law that declares mail-in absentee ballots late and invalid if they aren’t received by noon on Election Day.
The injunction approved by Southern Indiana District Court Senior Judge Sarah Evans Barker means that all mail-in ballots postmarked on or before Nov. 3 and received on or before Nov. 13—10 days after the election—must be counted, if otherwise valid.
The injunction applies only to this year’s Nov. 3 general election.
Barker’s ruling came in response to a legal motion by plaintiffs Common Cause Indiana and the Indiana Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who claim the law unconstitutionally disenfranchises voters who mailed their ballots on or before Election Day.
The groups estimated that thousands of mail-in ballots will be tossed out if the noon deadline rule is enforced in the general election. They estimated that about 10,000 absentee ballots were rejected as “late” during Indiana’s 2020 primary election. The plaintiffs said many more ballots would be rejected under the law in the general election because an unprecedented number of voters are expected to cast ballots by mail because of the pandemic.
The lawsuit was filed against Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson and Indiana Election Commission members Paul Okeson, Anthony Long, Suzannah Overholt and Zachary Klutz.
Barker said plaintiffs’ case met all three requirements needed for an injunction: It demonstrated a reasonable likelihood of success on its merits; that there was no adequate remedy at law; and that irreparable harm would take place absent the injunction.
In arguing against the injunction, the Office of Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill asserted in a brief that granting the injunction “would upend long-established election rules on the eve of an election, confusing voters and placing a significant strain on the system. Such results undermine, not further, the public interest.”
In her decision, Barker wrote “rather than undermining the public’s confidence in the election results, ensuring that all otherwise valid absentee ballots cast by Election Day are counted should instead strengthen the public’s confidence in the legitimacy of the final results.”
Barker disagreed with the defendants’ claim that changing election rules would “overburden absentee ballot counters and county election boards, who are responsible for authenticating and counting the absentee ballots by noon on Nov. 16, 2020.”
She said any “additional administrative strain does not outweigh the irreparable harm faced by Plaintiffs.”
The plaintiffs were represented in this case by the Indianapolis firms of Macey Swanson and Findling Park Conyers Woody & Sniderman as well as the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
The lawsuit regarding the noon deadline is one of several challenging Indiana elections laws, including another filed by Common Cause in which a judge blocked a unique-in-the-nation Indiana law that restricted who may petition a court to extend polling hours when voters have been deprived an opportunity to cast a ballot.
Perhaps most significantly among the unsettled Indiana voting lawsuits is a challenge that seeks to permit any registered Indiana voter to cast a ballot by mail. A district court judge upheld Indiana’s restrictions on absentee balloting, but the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals expedited the appeal, setting oral arguments for Wednesday.