The (Munster) Times. July 25, 2020.

Mask order compels us to take pandemic seriously

At a time when our Region and nation are starved for a clear track for navigating a global pandemic, and the leadership to propel us along that track, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb took the pole position this past week.

Now Hoosiers should follow the governor’s commonsense mask mandate to speed away from a resurgent wave of COVID-19 infections.

Holcomb’s statewide mandate, requiring that masks be worn in public places in which social distancing opportunities are challenged, is the type of clarity we needed in a time when COVID-19 infections are growing at home and abroad.

One of the top pieces of medical advice amid this global pandemic is for people to wear masks or other face coverings to reduce the spread of a virus that is infecting and killing far too many in Northwest Indiana, the greater state and in regions throughout the United States.

Our nation’s top doctors are saying it. Lake County’s top doctor, county Health Department Director Chandana Vavilala, has said it.

And now our governor has said it.

That clarity was needed, as we witnessed this week in the social response to wording in a Lake County mask order that came ahead of the governor’s edict.

Dr. Vavilala showed strong local leadership by issuing Lake County’s mask order. Her order followed solid leadership by various Region municipalities, including Hammond, to require masks be worn in publicly owned facilities.

County attorney, Matthew Fech, said the health department director intended the order as a local mandate.

However, an attempt at soft wording in the order created confusion among some citizens, business owners and public officials alike.

Some viewed the Lake County order as a “recommendation,” even though it was clearly a public health order and contained language that businesses “must ensure” patrons comply with the order.

Some of the ambiguity came with using words like “should” rather than “shall” when it came to citizens wearing masks in public.

In the end, that was a silly quibble, as the word “should” is merely the past tense of the word “shall” in the English language.

That confusion in Lake County is a lesson in prizing clear direction over political nuance.

Nonetheless, Holcomb made a strong move to clarify the matter for everyone by issuing a statewide order this past week.

It’s true a scandal-ridden Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill challenged Holcomb’s ability, through executive order, to add criminal teeth to his mask mandate.

Though the governor had sought misdemeanor penalties for violators of the order in an early draft, the final order signed Friday took those penalties out.

Convincing people to do the right thing for the health of our families, neighbors and ourselves shouldn’t take an executive order from the governor’s office or the threat of criminal penalties.

But too many people have been flippant about the real threats presented by COVID-19.

While some citizens moving about public places have responsibly heeded the best medical advice and worn masks, others have ignored the commonsense practice, believing their personal liberty trumps overall public health.

We applaud the governor for standing up for the health of Hoosiers by pushing us all to take this pandemic seriously.

If you’re going to be out in public among people, put on a mask. It’s not hard to do. Any discomfort is a small price to pay for overall public health.


The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. July 26, 2020.

State’s stalling on mail-in ballots imperils citizens’ access to their fundamental right

It comes down to this: Is voting a right or a privilege?

For too long, Indiana has presumed the latter. We’ve looked for ways to make voting just a little harder for the people who have the most trouble voting.

Voter ID law, check. Polls closing at 6 p.m. on Election Day, making it impossible for some workers to get there, check. Enrollment in a flawed interstate voter-purge operation that enabled Indiana officials to cancel registrations of people who hadn’t voted in several elections without even talking with the voters involved, check. A step back: A federal court ruled that process invalid and issued a preliminary injunction; last year, a federal appeals court upheld that ruling. The case is now back in district court.

Now, Gov. Eric Holcomb and Secretary of State Connie Lawson face one of the biggest voting-rights-related decisions in Indiana history: Whether to allow “no-excuse” vote by mail in this fall’s election. Given the uncertainties of the pandemic at this point, failure to act could mean thousands of Hoosiers could face the choice of possibly being exposed to COVID-19 or being disenfranchised.

Opponents of Indiana’s efforts to make voting harder often presume they are efforts by Republicans to eliminate minority, poor and elderly voters who might be more likely to vote Democratic.

“No-excuses” vote by mail isn’t really a partisan issue. Both parties have instituted such systems in other states; both Democrats and Republicans have won in places it is used. Given Indiana’s history on this subject, though, Holcomb and Lawson’s failure to approve such a system could be read in the worst possible light.

The current dilemma stems from a good decision Holcomb and Lawson made as the pandemic descended this spring. They postponed the primary election and bypassed the rule requiring voters who wished to cast a ballot by mail to be 65 years old or meet one of several other specific criteria.

Voters could still vote in person early or on Election Day. State officials decided to keep in place an unfortunate requirement that mailed ballots must be received at the polls by noon on Election Day, an arbitrary deadline six hours before polls closed.

The results? A decent turnout by Indiana standards, more voting by mail than ever – and Hoosiers who mailed in their votes were able to avoid possible exposure to the coronavirus.

There were problems, noted Jane Henegar, executive director of ACLU of Indiana: “Ballots not reaching people till the last minute; people requesting ballots and not receiving them. Mailing was slowed down by the pandemic.”

That, she said, led to more cases where the ballots didn’t reach polling places on time.

Hoosiers’ voting experiences were in stark contrast to those in Wisconsin, where officials waited too long to address the issue and forced Milwaukee voters to stand in line for hours without effective plans for social distancing.

Indiana election officials had only a few weeks to prepare for the primary. There is far more time to prepare for the general election.

Or at least there has been. Every minute Lawson and Holcomb delay makes it less likely the state can be prepared for all contingencies in a year that has already amply demonstrated the need for that. Gearing up for a big increase in mail-in ballots may mean acquiring specialized supplies and equipment. Staff must be hired and trained. (Recall the difficulties our local Election Board encountered just trying to staff polling places in the primary election last month.)

Perhaps Holcomb and Lawson are counting on a miracle that will deliver Indiana from the clutches of the coronavirus just as election season opens. Perhaps they’re listening to the president, who has loudly denounced vote by mail as a plot to steal the election.

Perhaps they fear “voter fraud” – the ever-present boogeyman used to justify restrictions on voting. But no one has ever demonstrated that voter fraud in any form is a significant problem.

“It just doesn’t exist,” Henegar said last week. “It’s anywhere between .0003% of (votes cast) or lower.” A 2014 Washington Post study of more than 1 billion votes cast found just 31 cases of “impersonation” of a voter

The recently deceased U.S. Rep. John Lewis had a philosophy Holcomb and Lawson might take to heart. Lewis carried a dent in his head he received when he decided not to back down from Alabama troopers trying to stop him and his colleagues from conducting a peaceful march for voting rights more than half a century ago. For the rest of his life, he embodied the principle of voting as a cornerstone of freedom.

“The right to vote is precious and almost sacred, and one of the most important blessings of our democracy,” Lewis once said. “We must be vigilant in protecting that blessing.”

It’s fair to say no one knows what things will be like in early November. But the disruptive prospects of a continuing threat from COVID-19 could make a decision to allow no-excuse mail voting crucial.

Indiana is one of only nine states that still require an excuse beyond concern about coronavirus to vote by mail. Officials should stop dithering, endorse no-excuse voting and let planning for this daunting task get under way.

As Henegar says, “We don’t have a voter-fraud problem; we have a voter-participation problem.”


Kokomo Tribune. July 25, 2020.

Celebrate a journalist

President Trump likes to call the “fake news media” the “real enemy of the people.” According to his Twitter archive, he’s tweeted 18 times about U.S. news organizations since the first of the month.

The enemy-of-the-people remark is a favorite refrain of the president. On July 9 he tweeted, “The Failing @nytimes, & ratings challenged @CNN, will do anything possible to see our Country fail! They are truly The Enemy of the People!”

It’s what makes the nation’s third Ernie Pyle Day — to be celebrated on the famous columnist’s birthday Aug. 3 — so ironic.

Pyle was born in Dana, Indiana. He studied journalism at Indiana University and started his reporting career at The Daily Herald of LaPorte. But it was his work as a World War II correspondent that made him famous. His columns from the viewpoint of American service members in the field commemorated their courage and sacrifice and earned him the Pulitzer Prize in 1944.

Pyle was killed by enemy fire on April 18, 1945, during the Battle of Okinawa. He was 44 years old.

Indiana Sen. Todd Young and and former Sen. Joe Donnelly introduced the resolution that resulted in the first ever Ernie Pyle Day.

“Ernie Pyle’s renowned career reporting throughout Indiana and World War II demonstrates the work ethic of Hoosiers and the dedication of Americans in commemorating our soldiers,” Young said. “By designating National Ernie Pyle Day, his important contributions to our state and nation will be honored.”

Said Donnelly: “I am proud to join Senator Young to introduce legislation designating August 3, 2018 as ‘National Ernie Pyle Day.’ Ernie Pyle — a Hoosier native from Dana, Indiana — forever influenced American journalism. His reporting from the battlefield in World War II captured the daily sacrifice and heroism of our service members fighting in the war.”

We encourage you to celebrate the life of Hoosier Ernie Pyle next week and contemplate what America would be without a free and professional press.