November 3 will be here before you know it, and already, early voting lines are stretching down the street and around the block. For some, however, the prospect of standing in long, masked lines defeats the entire purpose of voting early. What about absentee ballots?

The early voting line at the Johnson County Courthouse trails out the building and down the sidewalk.

The voting process in Indiana isn’t difficult, but voting by mail does require you to plan ahead. Voters are required to submit an absentee ballot application by October 22. Absentee voters are required to include their driver’s license number, the last four digits of their social security number, and some other distinctive information to prove their identity.

Those who want to vote by mail also have to select from a multiple-choice list of reasons they can’t vote in person. There are several options, including work obligations, transportation issues, and travel, but nothing related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Indiana Vote by Mail has tried to insist that all Hoosiers should be allowed to vote from home, but the State sees things differently.

The current deadline for absentee ballot receipt by the county election board is noon on November 3, but this is a point of contentious debate. Common Cause Indiana and the Indiana Conference of the NAACP sued in the Southern District of Indiana, claiming that if the November 3 deadline is enforced, tens of thousands of otherwise valid absentee ballots could be thrown out. 

The judge in that case agreed and issued an order that all mail-in ballots received by November 13 and postmarked on or before Election Day must be counted. The judge rejected the State’s argument that extending the deadline would harm public confidence in the election, reasoning that counting all otherwise valid mail-in votes cast during a pandemic “should instead strengthen the public’s confidence in the legitimacy of the final results.”

At the Indianapolis City-County Building, the early voting line stretches down the street and around the block.

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill offered his counterpoint via press release, suggesting that a prompt result is more important than a comprehensive vote tally: “The noon Election Day deadline . . . ensures that the vast majority of ballots cast are counted on Election Day, thereby promoting public confidence in elections by allowing most races to be called on Election Day, not days or weeks later.” 

The State of Indiana does not want to extend its voting deadline, so it appealed to the Seventh Circuit. There, a three-judge panel reminded us that “as long as the state allows voting in person, there is no constitutional right to vote by mail.” The Seventh Circuit reversed the 10-day extension, so it seems we’re back to November 3 as the deadline for counting mail-in votes.

Long story short: If you haven’t already cast your absentee ballot, you might be cutting it too close. If you want to be proactive and avoid the Post Office’s Election Day bottleneck, early in-person voting is still available.

Don’t wait for the State to make voting convenient, because that’s never going to happen. Grab your ID, mask up, and go participate in democracy!