A federal ruling that all Indiana ballots postmarked by Election Day must be counted if they arrive on or before Nov. 13 was reversed on Tuesday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.
The reversal reinstates the deadline for arrival of mail-in ballots in Indiana to noon on Election Day, regardless of the postmarked date. In the June primary election, the longest delay from a mail-in ballot's postmarked date to its reception at the county election board's office was 19 days, Tippecanoe County Clerk Julie Roush said.
"People who worry that mail will be delayed during the pandemic can protect themselves by using early in-person voting or posting their ballots early," the ruling states. "Those who act at the last minute assume risks even without a pandemic."
Part of the court's rationale is that the change in voting policy happened too close to Election Day.
In praise of the ruling, Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill said in a statement, "The U.S. Supreme Court has said repeatedly that courts should not issue election-related injunctions at the eleventh hour, and we are pleased that the court of appeals has implemented that directive."
The decision also relies on precedent from an Oct. 6 ruling, Tully v. Okeson, that dictates difficulty created by the coronavirus does not require a change to election rules, according to the filing.
"As long as the state allows voting in person," the decision states, "there is no constitutional right to vote by mail."
The plaintiff in the lawsuit, Common Cause Indiana, used the United States Postal Service's own words in arguing that the the timeframe of Indiana's election "may be incongruous with the Postal Service's delivery standards," according to court documents.
To mitigate the likelihood of postal delays, Roush has said the county and USPS urge voters to apply for absentee ballots by Oct. 19, three days before the official state deadline. This way, USPS will have a 15-day period to complete the mailing process.
The board also agreed to create a secure drop-off site for ballots at Edgelea Elementary School in Lafayette, chosen for its location near the heart of Tippecanoe County. Voters can drive to 2910 S. 18th St. on Oct. 25, a Sunday, from noon to 4 p.m. to circumvent the postal system and drop off ballots.