With the COVID-19 pandemic still requiring social distancing and the Indiana primary coming up June 2, the state should promote early voting to avoid big crowds at the polls — and possible coronavirus outbreaks.

While state and county election officials have taken some steps to encourage early voting, more could be done for November’s general election.

By executive order, any registered Hoosier may choose to vote by mail in the primary, which was delayed from May 5 to June 2 because of the coronavirus crisis. In previous Indiana elections, voters were required to provide a reason for not voting at the polls on election day.

If you wish to vote by mail you must submit an application for an absentee ballot by May 21. If approved, you’ll receive a ballot by mail to be filled out and returned to your county election board by noon on primary day.

Early voting could be simplified. Specifically, the process for receiving and submitting both the absentee ballot application and the ballot is clunky.

Some county clerks’ websites do not include an application form for a mail-in ballot. The secretary of state’s site has at least three different versions of the form and fails to provide clear instructions about the differences.

One version must be printed out, filled out by hand and mailed, emailed or faxed to the county clerk. But this form and the variations of it do not include email addresses and fax numbers for county clerk’s offices; you have to call your clerk’s office for that information.

Another version of the application form can be filled out electronically but must be printed to sign by hand.

Most Hoosiers will find the third version of the application form easiest to use. You can fill it out, authorize it and submit it electronically by following these steps.

• At indianavoters.in.gov click “Vote by Mail or Traveling Abroad,” then click “My Voter Portal.”
• Fill in your name, birth date and county.
• In the lefthand menu of the next screen, scroll down and click on “Absentee Voting” and select “Vote by Mail.”
• When the application form pops up, follow the instructions and submit it electronically.

While this electronic form will work well for most Hoosiers, state and county officials could take additional steps to make early voting easier:

• Provide all three versions of the application form online and mark each clearly.
• Include on the application the email address and fax number for each county clerk’s office.
• Enable voters to receive clickable absentee ballots by email, so that they can fill out the ballot electronically.
• Give voters the option of returning completed ballots to the county clerk’s office by email.

State and county officials would need to take steps to assure that such steps aren’t susceptible to computer hacking.

These measures, once safety is assured, would not only make the early voting process easier in future elections, they’d potentially save counties hundreds of thousands of dollars in postage.
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