Judge rules Indiana must tell voters of nixed mail ballots

A federal judge has struck down Indiana’s process of rejecting absentee ballots because of differing voter signatures, since the process didn’t require voters to be told about such decisions or offer a way to contest them.

Posted: Aug 21, 2020 3:06 PM
Updated: Aug 24, 2020 9:19 PM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A federal judge has struck down Indiana’s process of rejecting absentee ballots because of differing voter signatures, since the process didn’t require voters to be told about such decisions or offer a way to contest them.

The ruling Thursday prevents election officials from tossing out mailed-in absentee ballots with envelope signatures that don’t match those on voter registration records unless the voters are given enough notice before Election Day.

The lawsuit filed last year by Common Cause Indiana only claims that the problem affected a small percentage of mailed-in ballots in the 2018 election, but the ruling comes as Indiana election officials are expecting a big jump in voting by mail this fall because of the coronavirus threat.

U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker found that county election workers are not trained in handwriting analysis to determine whether the voter signatures match as required by state law.

“While the overall number of voters disenfranchised by the signature verification is not overwhelmingly large, there is nonetheless a real risk of erroneous rejection, particularly given the natural variations in a person’s handwriting ... which might result from uncontrollable factors such as age or mental or physical condition,” Barker wrote.

The judge faulted the state for disenfranchising voters without any process for notifying them that their mailed-in ballots had been rejected, which would allow them to appeal the decision or cast a ballot in person.

Barker rejected arguments from state attorneys that the signature verification process was a reasonable step to prevent voting fraud.

Barker ordered Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson to create voter notification and appeal procedures for this fall’s election.

Julia Vaughn, policy director of Common Cause Indiana, said the ruling would prevent votes from being tossed out because of a flawed law.

“Election laws should protect people’s right to vote and the integrity of our election system,” she said in a statement. “Indiana’s signature matching law failed to do either and wrongly disenfranchised Hoosiers.”

The secretary of state’s office didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment Friday.

The Indiana attorney general’s office, which represented the state in the lawsuit, was reviewing the ruling and considering its legal options, spokeswoman Melissa Gustafson said.

Common Cause said records it requested from 18 of Indiana’s 92 counties found that eight counties rejected 177 mailed-in ballots during the 2018 general election because of signature mismatches. Only northwestern Indiana’s Lake County, which rejected 32 ballots, had a process for notifying those voters. Ten other counties didn’t reject any such ballots.

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CountyCasesDeaths
Cook54636010136
DuPage907311283
Will75665991
Lake67328990
Kane58479777
Winnebago33296475
Madison30549520
McHenry28644288
St. Clair27886514
Peoria23156316
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LaSalle12573243
Macon10774200
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Ogle611881
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Clinton576190
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Knox5567150
Jackson503164
Henry500367
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Stephenson476583
Woodford476076
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Lee417352
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Morgan390482
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Shelby229937
Union225940
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Cass199325
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Pike179252
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Wayne177753
Hancock176132
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Washington164525
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CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1005261750
Lake54085975
Allen40876680
St. Joseph36249552
Hamilton35783408
Elkhart28784442
Tippecanoe22449219
Vanderburgh22359397
Porter18894310
Johnson18053381
Hendricks17298315
Clark13026191
Madison12740339
Vigo12490248
LaPorte12040214
Monroe11936170
Delaware10738187
Howard9974218
Kosciusko9455117
Hancock8346142
Bartholomew8091156
Warrick7795155
Floyd7682178
Grant7090174
Wayne7067199
Boone6732101
Morgan6603139
Dubois6165117
Marshall6092112
Cass5864105
Dearborn582678
Henry5772105
Noble564484
Jackson503273
Shelby493896
Lawrence4580120
Gibson436592
Harrison436472
DeKalb430185
Clinton428353
Montgomery425589
Whitley397539
Huntington393580
Steuben390757
Miami383268
Knox372790
Jasper370848
Putnam362660
Wabash355080
Adams342555
Ripley340470
Jefferson331781
White316354
Daviess298299
Wells292081
Decatur285792
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Greene280485
Posey272033
LaGrange268370
Scott267354
Clay260947
Washington241932
Randolph241781
Spencer232631
Jennings230749
Starke218454
Fountain213646
Sullivan212242
Owen202556
Jay197230
Fulton195740
Carroll190120
Orange184354
Perry184237
Rush173725
Vermillion170044
Franklin168435
Tipton163145
Parke146716
Pike135334
Blackford135132
Pulaski117245
Newton108634
Brown102641
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Benton99014
Martin89515
Warren82415
Switzerland7938
Union71410
Ohio57111
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