Stafford: Holcomb’s calculation leads voters to risk health or liberty

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“When a Dimmycrat gets defeated he says his wife didn’t want him t’ run, an’ when a Republican gets snowed under he says th’ people are follerin’ strange gods.”

— Abe Martin, 1913

If only these were the lone stakes in the Nov. 3 election. But because Indiana during a pandemic clings to arbitrary, antiquated absentee voting laws, countless Hoosiers face a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t voting choice: risk your health or risk your liberty.

You can choose to risk your health by voting in person, going to a polling place and standing in a long line on Election Day or during early voting, where social distancing may be impossible and where face coverings may be optional. Odds are you won’t get infected from voting, but those taking abundant precautions won’t take such risks. Which means not voting in person.

Or, you can risk your liberty by requesting an absentee ballot, swearing under penalty of perjury that you fit into one of the permitted categories. Odds are agents of the state won’t challenge your excuse for requesting an absentee ballot, but honest folks scared of the word “perjury” won’t take such risks. Which means not voting by absentee ballot.

Which may mean not voting at all.

Of course, this situation is absurd and anti-democratic. And of course, it need not be this way.

And of course, it is calculated.

If one were cynical, one might suggest that Gov. Eric Holcomb, Secretary of State Connie Lawson and our state’s Republican leaders, who all along have had the ability to change this — indeed did change it for the primary election — are taking their cues from President Donald Trump’s drum-tweets assaulting and undermining the legitimacy of our elections.

If one were more cynical, one might further suggest that Holcomb, Lawson and company are doing nothing because they do not want all registered Hoosiers to exercise their right to vote.

If one were seriously cynical, one might even suggest that Holcomb refused to act and “deferred to the courts” here in a knowing and willful calculation to run out the clock on the possibility of expanded mail-in voting.

Call me seriously cynical. And call this Holcomb’s worst miscalculation. Whether Holcomb’s failure to act is itself a cynical calculation doesn’t matter. The window is closing for the governor to do the right thing. But he’s already drawn the shade.

Conventional wisdom says expanded voting by mail hurts Trump and down-ticket Republicans. But the irony here in Indiana is that Holcomb would gain respect and probably votes for making the right and proper good-government call to put Hoosier voters’ safety ahead of partisan politics and permit no-excuse mail-in voting. What could he possibly lose by standing up for the right to vote and for public health, rejecting even the appearance of voter suppression during a pandemic?

Let’s face it, no serious political observer believes Holcomb is in electoral trouble. With respect to Dr. Myers, the few Indiana governor polls out there show most voters saying, “Woody who?”

But that doesn’t matter either. What matters is, crises present tests of leadership, and Holcomb’s milquetoast excuses for not backing no-excuse mail-in voting during this time will haunt him and define him. This is easily his worst hour in a long political career. Because this was a such an easy call to make that not making it reveals the governor’s motives, if not his character.

By doing nothing, Holcomb calculated that politics was greater than public health.

Whether you’re a Republican or a Dimmycrat, you don’t mess with people’s right to vote, their health or their liberty. And you don’t lead them into a damnable choice in a damnable time, whether or not they’re follerin’ strange gods.•

Dave Stafford[email protected] — is editor of Indiana Lawyer. Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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