Mary Beth Schneider: You shouldn’t have to risk your life to vote

<p>“Indiana is not a vote-by-mail state,” Secretary of State Connie Lawson said recently.</p><p>No. But we should be, at least at a time when merely going to a polling place, to vote or work as a poll worker, means risking a potentially fatal infection.</p><p>The list of people who have died or been injured defending the right to vote in America is distressingly long.</p><p>It isn’t just soldiers. It’s men like the Rev. George Lee of Belzoni, Mississippi, who was murdered in 1955 because he persisted in registering black people to vote. It’s young people like Freedom Riders James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, who were murdered in 1964. It’s women like Alice Paul, force-fed in prison after being arrested for picketing the White House seeking women’s suffrage.</p><p>It’s women like one of my heroes, Amelia Boynton Robinson, born in 1911. She fought for voting rights throughout her life, as a young girl supporting women’s suffrage and as a key organizer of the march from Selma to Montgomery in March 1965 to demand constitutional rights, including the right to vote.</p><p>Robinson was gassed, whipped, beaten and left for dead on the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma. Nevertheless, she persisted.</p><p>She died in 2015, just short of her 105th birthday. I expect that she’d be persisting today, fighting for the right to vote.</p><p>Instead of making the right to vote easier, we’ve made it harder in the face of trumped-up claims of voting fraud — a crime that is rare. Now, add to that the pandemic that has made voting in person an act of courage that no one should have to endure.</p><p>Indiana has taken some important steps to try to lessen the danger. But it isn’t enough.</p><p>The state moved the primary election scheduled for May 5 to June 2, when hopefully the infection rate is lessened. And it is allowing anyone to vote by mail, instead of restricting that absentee ballot option only to people who are elderly, ill or otherwise unable to get to a polling place on Election Day.</p><p>Lawson said she, the Republican and Democratic party chairmen and election officials have reached agreement on other steps. Lawson said one step is seeking $7.9 million in federal funds to purchase masks, gloves and hand sanitizers to protect poll works and disinfect voting equipment. Asked why Indiana was doing that, instead of having a solely vote-by-mail election, Lawson said Indiana couldn’t afford to mail out an absentee ballot to every registered voter in the state and that there are some people who just prefer voting in person.</p><p>There will be a shorter period for in-person early voting, only running from May 26 to June 1, and there may be fewer voting places, she said, urging people to check with their county about polling sites. (Hancock County at this writing will have four sites; it normally has a dozen.) She stressed key dates: Hoosiers have until May 4 to register to vote and until May 21 to request an absentee ballot, something more than 70,000 people already have done. An online ballot application is available at</p><p>But that ballot won’t count unless you get it back to your county election office by noon Election Day. In Wisconsin, hundreds of absentee ballots were not counted because voters got them too late or they won’t returned on time by the postal service. The Election Commission should ensure ballots postmarked by Election Day are counted. A vote shouldn’t be lost because of delays in the mail service.</p><p>While President Trump has called voting by mail rife with fraud — even though he votes that way — Gov. Eric Holcomb defended it, saying “We’ve long been voting by mail. I have a high level of confidence in the integrity of our election process.”</p><p>Great. The Election Commission should make it available to every citizen for the November election. Chances of a re-emergence of the coronavirus in the fall are real. The same problems that make voting in person a risk now may still exist in November. Delaying the presidential election isn’t an option.</p><p>But keeping Hoosiers safe by letting everyone vote by mail should be. No poll worker, no voter needs to add their name to the roll of people who risked their lives to have their voice heard and their vote counted.</p>