Indiana ordered to reply by Monday to vote-by-mail appeal

The state of Indiana has been ordered to respond by Monday to an appeal in a federal lawsuit seeking no-excuse absentee voting in the Nov. 3 general election, signaling the appellate court in Chicago may fast-track the challenge over mail-in voting just over two months ahead of the election.

7th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Michael Kanne on Wednesday ordered the state to reply two days faster than requested by plaintiffs who appealed a district court ruling against expanded mail-in voting. Southern District of Indiana Judge J.P. Hanlon one week ago denied a preliminary injunction in a suit challenging Indiana’s limitations on who may cast an absentee ballot.

Indiana Vote by Mail and other litigants had requested the court to order the state to respond to the appeal by Sept. 2; Kanne ordered the response by Aug. 31.

Plaintiffs in the suit docketed at the 7th Circuit as Indiana Vote by Mail, et al. v. Okeson, et al., 20-2605, have asked the federal appeals court to strike down Indiana’s absentee ballot restrictions in light of the ongoing pandemic. The suit claims among other things that Indiana’s laws on who may cast a mail-in ballot forces voters who don’t qualify under one of several statutory reasons to risk their health by voting in person. The suit also alleges that a provision permitting anyone over 65 to cast an absentee ballot unlawfully discriminates on the basis of age.

The suit claims conditions are either unchanged or worse than at the time of Indiana’s primary, when the state permitted any registered voter to cast an absentee ballot.

The 7th Circuit had docketed no further activity on the case as of Friday morning.

The appeal is one of three voting-related lawsuits in which decisions were handed down last week.

In another, Senior Judge Sarah Evans Barker halted enforcement of a state law allowing election workers to reject absentee ballots on the basis of a signature mismatch. Barker ruled the law’s lack of notice that would allow a voter to challenge election officials’ decision to invalidate a ballot violated the 14th Amendment. That case is Mary J. Frederick, et al. v. Connie Lawson, et al., 1:19-cv-1959.

Following that ruling, Judge Tanya Walton Pratt issued an order that blocked Indiana from purging voter rolls. The court permanently enjoined the state from implementing Senate Enrolled Act 334 and from removing voters without written confirmation from the voters or without following the procedures mandated in the National Voting Rights Act.

Pratt granted the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment in that case, Indiana State Conference of the NAACP, et al. v. Connie Lawson, et al., 1:17-cv-02897.

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