ANDERSON — Local political party heads disagree with President Donald Trump’s suggestion Thursday to delay the November election. But they’re split over the issue of mail-in voting.
Meanwhile, Madison County Clerk Olivia Pratt, a Republican like Trump, opposes the president’s point of view about mailed ballots. (Editor's note: Pratt clarified after this article was initially published that while she disagrees with Trump's assertion that mail-in voting is more prone to fraud than absentee voting she supports his position that full reliance on mail-in voting is a bad idea.)
On Thursday, Trump tweeted, “With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”
Madison County Republican Party Chairperson Russ Willis and county Democratic Party Chairperson Ludy Watkins both said the election shouldn’t be delayed.
“We’ll be fine,” Willis said. “We had good protocols in the primary election to wipe the machines down and keep people separated six feet apart.”
Watkins thinks more health safety precautions need to be put in place for the presidential election compared to the primaries.
“I think we can make it safer,” she said. “I won’t say ‘safe’ because I don’t know anything about this and nobody else does either, but we can make it safer for the fall election.”
Willis and Watkins’ perspectives diverge when it comes to the possible expansion of voting by mail in Indiana.
“There’s too many people that are registered and may not live here,” Willis said. “Some may be deceased. People move, and they don’t cancel the registration.
“People have the opportunity to fill out an application to vote absentee, but if talking about just mailing an absentee ballot to every registered voter, that is unacceptable,” he added.
Research by The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, doesn’t support the premise that voting by mail is prone to fraud.
The foundation has kept track of documented voter fraud over the past 20 years. Only about 200 of the 1,200 cases of fraud it has reported involve mail-in ballots, and during that time more than 250 million ballots have been mailed.
Watkins doesn’t worry about fraud in mail-in voting. But she is concerned about mailed ballots being received on time.
“Sometimes the mail is kind of slow,” Watkins said. “I guess there could be some fraud, but it wouldn’t be any different to me than just regular voting.”
Mail-in ballot voting, Pratt said, is fundamentally the same as absentee voting, only without the required reason for not casting a ballot in person.
“Trying to separate the two and say that (mail-in) is fraudulent and (absentee) is perfectly fine isn’t accurate,” said Pratt, who as county clerk is the point person for organizing and conducting elections in Madison County.
Indiana is one of just eight states where a resident must provide a reason for voting by absentee ballot. In the spring when the pandemic hit, that rule was suspended for public health reasons to allow any eligible Hoosier the opportunity to vote by mail in the primary.
Gov. Eric Holcomb has resisted calls from many parts of the state to allow all Hoosiers to vote by mail again in the Nov. 3 general election, when the coronavirus is still likely to be a major concern.
While the president doesn’t have the power to delay the election — that would require a highly unlikely act of Congress — states do have the authority to expand, or contract, voters’ ability to cast ballots by mail.
The system of checking mail-in ballots in Madison County is secure, according to Pratt.
“Everything we do is bipartisan,” she said. “There’s no one party or the other messing with the ballots or anything like that. We check everything. We have barcodes whenever they come back. We scan everything in.
“Our system knows when someone has requested a ballot, or the system knows when a ballot’s gone out,” Pratt continued. “It knows when the ballot has come back, and then it’s stored in a room until Election Day.”
Pratt said she and her election team are ready for the expected unprecedented amount of absentee ballots that will come ahead of Nov. 3.
“We are trying to get the word out to let people know they can request absentee ballots now,” she said. “They don’t have to wait until October or until the deadline is coming up.”