High court declines to hear Indiana vote-by-mail limits case

INDIANAPOLIS — The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a case challenging Indiana’s vote-by-mail restrictions, a rebuff that means a federal court will decide the future of absentee voting in the state.

Monday’s decision by the high court follows a federal appeals court’s ruling in October rejecting a lawsuit that aimed to make mail-in ballots available to all Indiana voters last November due to the pandemic.

The case now returns before a federal judge in Indianapolis, where it began, The Indianapolis Star reported.

In October, a three-judge panel of 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that Indiana’s limits in state law don’t violate voters’ constitutional rights. That decision upheld an August ruling that state officials had discretion in how to allow mail voting and that voters not wanting to cast ballots on Election Day could go to early voting sites for nearly a month before then.

Indiana’s mail-in voting limits allow people to vote by mail only if they fall into one of several categories, including being 65 or older or being absent from their home counties on Election Day.

Plaintiffs in the case argued that Indiana’s age restriction for absentee voters infringes upon the constitutional right to participate in the polls. It is one of 11 state restrictions that define who can and can’t vote by mail.

Indiana’s election commission waived those requirements during last year’s primary elections because it recognized that the pandemic hindered safety at the voting booth. Plaintiffs tried to get a federal judge to require the commission to extend that allowance to November, but the judge declined.

Indiana Vote By Mail, a nonprofit and one of 13 plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said Tuesday that the plaintiffs were “gravely disappointed” by the high court’s decision.

“Indiana’s response to our petition provided no justification for Indiana’s arbitrary age-based excuse for receiving an absentee ballot,” the nonprofit said in a statement. “Nor are the State of Indiana or Indiana voters served in any way by applying this age-based test to voters who wish to vote at home.”

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita tweeted his support for the high court’s decision, saying it “rightly allowed Indiana to limit the privilege of mail-in absentee ballots to Hoosiers 65 and older (among other categories of voters).”

“States have the authority to set their own election policies so long as they are constitutional,” he wrote.