Leader Tim Lanane op-ed: Absentee voting a popular option for Hoosiers

As I write this, Indiana is experiencing a record surge in COVID-19 cases. We currently sit at a hospitalization rate that is the highest since we were still partially locked down in May. Right now, 17 percent of Hoosiers who have been hospitalized have died. This isn’t fear mongering; these are the facts.

Luckily back in May, every single Hoosier who was registered to vote had the option to keep themselves safe during our primary election season. Anyone could request an absentee ballot be sent to their homes. Such a policy made sense, as Hoosiers want to be able to exercise their right to vote while still being pragmatic and safe during this pandemic. Over half a million Hoosiers ended up requesting a mailed absentee ballot.

Yet, now as cases rise to greater numbers than they were in May and hospitalizations quickly climb to May levels, Hoosiers are told that they must go vote in person. Unless you qualify for one of 11 specific reasons, our governor and secretary of state are telling you that you must go to polling place to vote. Unfortunately, just being a part of a vulnerable population or taking the personal responsibility to avoid COVID-19 exposure are not acceptable reasons to vote absentee.

Day after day since early voting started, many Hoosiers have waited in line for hours to vote at their local polling place. In the middle of a pandemic, as our governor is pleading with Hoosiers to make the personal decisions to stay home and not gather in groups, he also refuses to give Hoosiers the option to vote safely from home.

Many warned about people having to stand in long lines to vote in person in the midst of a public health crisis. Even more, we were warned that the 2020 general election would most likely occur in the midst of a second, potentially worse, resurgence of the virus. Now, it is happening before our eyes. Shame on the governor and his administration. Hoosiers deserve the chance to safely and legally vote absentee.

Even worse, our governor doesn’t seem to care to enforce his own mask mandate in polling places. He routinely touts that masks are an effective way to stop the spread of COVID-19, yet he and Secretary of State Lawson have allowed a county clerk to refuse to wear a mask in a county that is seeing a record surge of the disease. Governor Holcomb, you cannot claim to oversee a safe election process during this pandemic while refusing to enforce a rule that would help keep voters healthy.

The governor cannot pretend to want to keep voters safe while allowing election officials to ignore science-backed protection measures. I’m afraid this is what happens under the arrogance of one party rule that has to bow to the farthest extremes of its party members. Why don’t you trust Hoosiers to be able to safely and securely vote absentee in the mail?

Right now our state is on the losing side of this issue. Indiana is one of only five states that doesn’t allow anyone who wants to vote in the mail to do so during this pandemic. Why would our governor want to be on a list of states that make it more difficult for hard-working Americans to vote during a health emergency? Shouldn’t Indiana be a leader in making sure that its citizens can always find a way to cast their vote safely?

Well, if the governor is waiting for the legislature to weigh in on this issue, then I hope we can count on his public support of a bill to allow no-excuse absentee voting during the legislative session. I see no reason why the whole legislature and the governor couldn’t pass this measure into law, especially since Senate Republicans already signaled their support of such a bill in 2018. Failure pass a no-excuse absentee voting bill next year would be a slap in the face to Hoosiers across the state.

Governor Holcomb, if you truly trust Hoosiers like you say you do, then you should trust them to be able to cast their vote without fault in the mail in any election. Voting is our right, and I will fervently protect that right in our state.