Indiana’s top election official on Friday rejected a request for extending the deadline for returning mail-in ballots for next week’s primary election, despite worries that thousands of them could arrive late and go uncounted.
Some voters scattered around the state have complained about not receiving mail-in ballots that they requested as election officials encouraged voting by mail to lessen the risk of coronavirus exposure Tuesday at in-person polling sites.
State figures show nearly 550,000 voters across Indiana requested mail-in ballots — more than 10 times the number of those ballots cast during the 2016 primary — and more than 300,000 have been returned through Thursday.
Marion County Clerk Myla Eldridge, who oversees the election staff in Indianapolis, sent a letter Thursday to state officials asking them to extend the deadline that requires mail-in ballots arrive at county election offices by noon Tuesday while polling sites remain open.
Republican members of the State Election Commission last month blocked a similar request from Democratic members after approving a four-week delay in the primary from its original May 5 date.
Republican Secretary of State Connie Lawson said Friday that changing the deadline now “would not be good idea.”
“There are 92 counties in this state, and we cannot change deadlines because somebody is too busy or whether it is lack of preparation,” Lawson said. “The deadlines are there for security and accountability.”
Eldridge, a Democrat, wrote that coronavirus restrictions limited the number of county election staffers who could process some 123,000 mail-in ballot requests, which was 20 times the number the county received for the 2016 primary. Many of those ballots weren’t mailed until late last week, leaving voters little time to receive the ballots and return them.
“In short, this could mean that thousands of ballots will remain uncounted despite the best efforts of both the Marion County Election Board and the voters themselves,” Eldridge wrote.
Lawson recommended those who received a mail-in ballot late or not at all go to an in-person early voting site or a polling location on Tuesday to cast their votes. Lawson said Marion County “worked diligently” to send out ballots.
“I think they made every effort to get them out in the mail, but there are also mail processing that we cannot control,” Lawson said.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb didn’t state a position on changing the deadline when asked during his coronavirus briefing Friday but said he felt safe to cast his primary ballot at an in-person voting site.
State Treasurer Kelly Mitchell, a candidate in the Republican 5th District congressional primary, sent a letter to Indianapolis officials Thursday saying she was worried about delays in voters receiving mail-in ballots. She urged action so that voters wouldn’t be disenfranchised.
Lake County election board Director Michelle Fajman, who leads the voting process in Indiana’s second-largest county, said some voters always miss the deadline to return mail-in ballots, sometimes by simple procrastination. She said she didn’t favor extending that deadline.
“I think this election has already been extended another month,” Fajman said. “I think it is just a matter of there needs to be an end date.”