Governor: COVID-19 means postponement of Indiana primary elections to June 2

At a late morning press conference on Friday, Indiana’s governor, Eric Holcomb, announced that the state’s primary election would be postponed 28 days, from May 5 to June 2.

Holcomb Screen Shot 2020-03-20 at 11.31.21 AM
Screen grab from March 20, 2020 press conference by Indiana’s governor, Eric Holcomb

Given the threat of COVID-19 exposure, the primary date would be pushed back to ensure the safety of county employees, poll workers and the public, Holcomb said.

Updated numbers from the Indiana Department of Health on Friday indicate the number of confirmed cases has doubled in two days, from 39 on March 18 to 79 on March 20 (today). The number of tests almost tripled during that period, from 193 to 554.

Mailing in an absentee ballot for the postponed election will likely be possible for any voter, assuming the state’s election commission uses its power to make that decision.

The state’s election commission has been asked to waive the conditions for mailing in a ballot, Indiana’s secretary of state, Connie Lawson, said at the press conference.

The state’s election meeting has a special meeting scheduled next week, on March 25, when it could take that action. 

One of the existing conditions on the mail-in application form appears to come close to fitting the description of the COVID-19 pandemic: “I will be confined to my residence, a health care facility, or a hospital due to illness or injury during the entire twelve (12) hours that the polls are open.”

But an attorney for the state’s election division told The Square Beacon earlier in the week that state officials could not advise voters to use that option. Checking the box means the voter believes the statement to be true, and government officials can’t tell voters what they believe, he said. Action by the state’s election commission next week would make it clear that all voters can mail in an absentee ballot.

Lawson said at the press conference that the deadlines associated with the primaries would be adjusted by the same 28 days as the election date, pending action by the election commission. One of those deadlines was looming this weekend: March 21 was the deadline for a county election board to mail absentee ballots to voters who have previously filed an approved application.

Early voting looks like it will start May 5, the originally scheduled date for election day.

The governor had hinted at a press conference the day before, on Thursday, that a postponement of the election could be be announced soon. At Thursday’s press conference, Holcomb said his personal preference was to postpone the election, but felt such a decision warranted a clear consensus. So the time was being taken to build that consensus, he said.

At Friday’s press conference, the appearance by both major party chairs—Republican Kyle Hupfer and Democrat John Zody—helped support the message that there is a consensus. Zody said in the his party there are “folks who are concerned and folks who are in support.” The June 2 date “cuts it close” for the Democratic Party’s state convention, Zody said.

No agenda has been yet been posted for the election commission’s meeting. Not mentioned at the press conference was whether any deadlines for the general election in November might be pushed.

Extending general election deadlines for collecting for collecting minor-party candidate signatures was part of a request made to state election commissioners earlier this week by local candidate for Monroe County commissioner, Randy Paul.  The request asks commissioners to consider extending the June 30 deadline for the more than 1,000 signatures he’ll need, or reducing the required number of signatures.

Paul wants to appear on the ballot as a Green Party candidate. Minor parties, like the Greens, are hampered by COVID-19 social distancing requirements, because the large gatherings were they might typically collect signatures won’t be taking place, Paul told The Square Beacon. Even the activity of collecting signatures for individuals one-to-one—handing a pen back and forth—would risk transmission of COVID-19, Paul said.

Paul said he’s not optimistic that the election commission will act to accommodate signature requirements for minor-party candidates. If he doesn’t hit the mark, he’ll register as a write-in, he said.

At Friday’s press conference, the state’s health commissioner, Kristina Box, said the best way to vote is absentee.

Asked by a reporter at Friday’s press conference why the election commission was not being asked to require all voters to use mail-in absentee ballots, Indiana’s secretary of state, Connie Lawson, said it’s not clear that all counties in the state have the capacity to process the ballots, if all of them are cast by mail.

In any case, Lawson said, the increased volume of absentee ballots means it’s possible that election results will not be immediately available on election night this year, and some patience would be required.

Places where patience might be required include Monroe County, according to election supervisor Karen Wheeler. She told The Square Beacon that her office would strive to get as many ballots as possible processed on election night. Whether ballot processing could be completed would depend on how many people vote absentee, and how many workers she has available to process them.

When it’s multiplied times a few thousand ballots, the basic step of opening the sealed envelope containing an absentee ballot can be time consuming, Wheeler said. Envelopes with ballots can’t be opened before election day.

Next up on Wheeler’s election calendar had been a logic and accuracy (LAT) of the equipment scheduled for March 24. That’s been put off to an undetermined time.

Previously Wheeler told The Square Beacon that she has asked Community Access Television Services (CATS) to televise the LAT. In the past it has not been covered by CATS, but in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, she wanted to make the public testing accessible to the public without physically attending.

Wheeler said Monroe County had never had a problem with its equipment passing the LAT with 100-percent accuracy. But she is eager to confirm that the new equipment the county has purchased, and will be used for the first time for the primary election, is working properly.