Mail ballots ready for distribution are seen Sept. 18 at the U.S. Postal Service hub in Crown Point. A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that Indiana mail-in ballots must returned no later than noon on Election Day, Nov. 3, to be counted in the final results.  Staff file photo by Kale Wilk
Mail ballots ready for distribution are seen Sept. 18 at the U.S. Postal Service hub in Crown Point. A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that Indiana mail-in ballots must returned no later than noon on Election Day, Nov. 3, to be counted in the final results. Staff file photo by Kale Wilk
Hoosiers voting by mail this year must return their absentee ballot to their county's election office no later than noon on Election Day — Nov. 3 — if they want it counted in the final results.

The federal appeals court in Chicago on Tuesday overturned a Sept. 29 ruling by a federal district court judge in Indianapolis that would have allowed Indiana absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day to be received up to 10 days following the end of in-person voting.

The 3-0 appellate ruling rejected the notion that extra time for counties to accept mail-in ballots is constitutionally warranted due to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated service delays at the U.S. Postal Service.

Instead, the appeals court reiterated its prior pronouncement that there is no constitutional right to vote by mail because Indiana offers plenty of opportunities to vote in person, including four weeks of early voting and 12 hours of voting on Election Day.

"That some people are unwilling to vote in person does not make an otherwise-valid system unconstitutional," Appeals Judge Frank Easterbrook said.

"It is for states to decide what sort of adjustments would be prudent. The (COVID-19) pandemic has caused great loss but is not a good reason for the federal judiciary to assume tasks that belong to politically responsible officials."

Indiana election officials repeatedly have declined to adjust balloting rules for the general election, like they did for the primary election, because the Hoosier State no longer is operating under the governor's COVID-19 stay-at-home order as it was earlier this year.

Republican Attorney General Curtis Hill cheered the appellate court ruling. He urged people concerned about their vote counting to mail back their absentee ballot as soon as possible, or cast their ballot in-person at an early voting site or on Election Day.

"Our system provides adequate opportunity for all Hoosiers to cast a ballot by Election Day, and the absentee ballot-receipt deadline as written by the Indiana General Assembly helps most races to be called on Election Day, and not days or weeks after," Hill said.

Eligible voters can request a mail-in absentee ballot through Oct. 22 by logging into their online registration record at IndianaVoters.com, clicking the "Vote By Mail" button, and providing the required information.

In-person early voting is open to all registered voters and runs through Nov. 2. Hoosiers can go to any polling place in their county to cast an early ballot.

Government-issued photo identification, such as a driver's license, passport or state ID, must be presented to vote early, or on Election Day, in Indiana.
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