Our nation is in the midst of a dangerous pandemic of a magnitude and scope not seen since the Pandemic of 1918 that killed an estimated 675,000 Americans.
At the urging of public health officials, virtually every form of human activity has been radically altered in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19. Nothing in our lives is operating on a “business-as-usual” basis.
We are bipartisan, and believe the way we conduct the critically important elections in Indiana this fall must also adapt to these new realities: both for the safety and health of our voters and poll workers, and to promote and safeguard the values underpinning our free and democratic society.
Under current Indiana law, only voters who are at least 65 years of age, or those who meet other narrow exceptions, are entitled to vote by mail. This March, Gov. Eric Holcomb, Secretary of State Connie Lawson and the bipartisan Indiana Election Commission took a bold and necessary measure to protect our democracy: They agreed to waive the statutory excuse requirements in Indiana law so every voter could vote safely by casting an absentee ballot from home.
In so doing they made it clear to Hoosiers that though the pandemic was ravaging the public's health and our economy, we would not allow it to undermine our democracy. Nor would Hoosiers be unnecessarily placed in harm's way.
They loudly – and correctly – voiced a fundamental truth: Voting is as vital to our democracy and our way of life as oxygen is to our ability to breathe.
Unfortunately, the bipartisan resolve to ensure a properly functioning democracy during a time of pandemic was short-lived. As we write, none of these policymakers have shown a similar willingness to extend vote-by-mail options to the fall general election. They have yet to even schedule a meeting to receive input from experts and the public on how best to conduct an election that will allow full participation during these difficult and challenging times.
The Constitution assures that all shall enjoy the equal protection of our laws. Honoring this guarantee is particularly important when it comes to the fundamental right to vote, upon which all our other rights depend.
The right to equal protection is betrayed when only older Hoosier citizens are permitted to vote conveniently and safely by mail, while the majority of other voters are denied that same right and forced to risk their health and lives voting in a crowded and poorly ventilated public space, where mask-wearing and distancing cannot be rigorously enforced.
Such a scheme undermines the public trust we afford our political leaders, and it erodes the bedrock of our democracy.
Some critics of mail voting continue to raise the false flag of voter fraud. But the simple truth is that there is a near-universal consensus among election law experts that voting by mail is no more tainted by fraud than in-person voting; and that in-person fraud is about as rare as the chance of being struck by lightning.
At least five states, red and blue, now conduct all voting by mail; and 30 other jurisdictions give all voters the choice to vote by mail. Moreover, the few disadvantages are outweighed by its many advantages: citizens are able to vote safely from home and take all the time they need to study the issues before marking their ballots; Election Day lines are shorter at traditional polling places when all voters have the option of voting by mail; an auditable paper trail is generated; and participation rates are higher.
During this pandemic, Hoosiers must not be forced to choose between protecting their health and exercising the most basic act of citizenship. Nor should we be scared to vote.
There is no time to waste. Election officials need time to prepare for the increased volume of mail ballots. Let our political leaders heed our voices, and let them again allow all registered Hoosier voters the option of voting from home by mail in this fall's election.
About the authors
(Clockwise from top left) John Mutz, a Republican, is former Indiana lieutenant governor; Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, is former representative for Indiana's 9th congressional District; Paul Helmke is former Fort Wayne mayor and director of Civic Leaders Center at Indiana University; and Pierre M. Atlas is professor of political science at Marian University.