In recent years, voting by a mail-in ballot– or an absentee ballot– has increased due to COVID-19, according to Massachusetts Institution of Technology (MIT) election data and science lab.
According to MIT, the original concept of voting by mail started in the American Civil War when both Union and Confederate soldiers were given the opportunity to vote from the battlefield and have their ballots counted.
However, the laws in place during the Civil War expired, and by 1918, soldiers lost the right to vote by mail-in ballot, according to the National WWII Museum of New Orleans.
During World War II, absentee voting came back when Congress passed the Soldiers Voting Act of 1942. It was later revised in 1944, in time for the general election.
The bill allowed soldiers to vote during wartime, according to the National WWII Museum of New Orleans. These bills were only applied for federal elections.
In the late 1800s, states began passing absentee ballot laws for civilians.
“The first laws were intended to accommodate voters who were away from home or seriously ill on Election Day,” according to the MIT website. “The number of absentee ballots distributed was relatively small, and the administrative apparatus was not designed to distribute a significant number.”
During the late 1980s, California became the first state to allow eligible voters to have an absentee ballot for any reason, according to MIT. In 2020, 29 states adopted the no-excuse absentee ballot laws — Indiana is not one of those states.
According to Rick Spangler, Delaware County Clerk, there are 11 reasons a person can vote absentee.
According to the Secretary of State (SOS): Voter Information website:
“You have a specific, reasonable expectation that you will be absent from the county on Election Day during the entire 12 hours that the polls are open (6 a.m. until 6 p.m.).
You have a disability.
You are at least 65 years of age.
You will have official election duties outside of your voting precinct.
You are scheduled to work at your regular place of employment during the entire 12 hours that the polls are open.
You will be confined due to illness or injury, or you will be caring for an individual confined due to illness or injury during the entire 12 hours that the polls are open.
You are prevented from voting because of a religious discipline or religious holiday during the entire 12 hours that the polls are open.
You are a participant in the state's address confidentiality program.
You are a member of the military or a public safety officer.
You are a ‘serious sex offender’ as defined in Indiana Code 35-42-4-14(a).
You are prevented from voting due to the unavailability of transportation to the polls.”
To apply for an absentee ballot, a person only needs one of these reasons. Prior to applying for the absentee ballot, a person does have to be registered to vote, Spangler said.
“They have to have a good reason why they can't vote, either during the 28 days of early voting or on election day,” Spangler said.
The voting registration deadline for the 2022 midterm election was Oct. 11, and the last day to apply for an absentee ballot is Oct. 27. Spangler said the voter’s respective county courthouse must receive the ballot by Nov. 8 before 6 p.m. to count in the vote.
According to the Secretary of State website, college students may only register at one of two places: their address where they live while attending school or their address where they live while not attending school.
The process of getting an absentee ballot is easy, Spangler said. A person can go on the Secretary of State website and go on their voter portal to apply. They could also go in-person to their courthouse and apply. Spangler said the paperwork takes about 10 minutes.
The ballot will be mailed to the voter based on when a voter applies for it, Linda Hanson, co-president of the Indiana League of Women Voters (LWV) of Indiana and spokesperson of LWV of Muncie-Delaware, said.
To learn about who will be on the ballot, LWV offers a website called Vote411. It helps people navigate voter registration, apply for absentee/mail-in ballots, make a voting plan and view who will be on the ballot. Voters can look at and learn about candidates on the website.
Hanson encourages voters who apply for an absentee ballot to apply sooner rather than later, so there is more time for the ballot to be mailed to the voter and back to the office.
“We also have a provision for people who are handicapped, who maybe need [help, and] they can't even do the ballot,” Spangler said. “So at that point, we do what we call a travel board, and we actually send a team to their home with a voting machine, so that they can vote, and it would be recorded just as an Election Day vote also.”
Absentee ballots are the same as early voting or mail-in ballots, Hanson said. She also talked about how, before 2008, university students couldn’t use their school IDs for voting.
Now, an ID can be used as long as there’s an expiration date, minus a few exceptions.
“A student ID from an Indiana state school may only be used if it meets all of the four criteria specified above,” according to the Secretary of State website. “A student ID from a private institution may not be used for voting purposes.”
To help Ball State students learn and understand their voting rights and responsibilities, the Office of Student Life made the “Cardinals Vote their Voice” website.
Director of Student Life Abby Haworth said via email the Cardinals Vote website was made in 2020 and is updated yearly.
On the website, it includes information on absentee ballots and how to apply for them. Haworth said the website is a part of “the Office of Student Life’s mission to make sure students are aware of how they can be civically engaged.”
Though the information on Cardinals Vote is for Indiana residents, due to Ball State’s student body being around 90 percent Indiana residents, there are links for out-of-state students to learn their options, Haworth said via email.
“Given that many of our students are not from Delaware County, it was important to highlight how students could vote (absentee, early or in-person),” Haworth said via email.