INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana -- Republicans won continued control of the Indiana governor's office and kept the state in the GOP's presidential column as voters cast the final ballots. But Democrats were looking at other races Tuesday in hopes of clawing back to greater political relevance in the state.
Gov. Eric Holcomb and President Donald Trump both won victories in the state for Republicans. Democrats, meanwhile, concentrated their fall campaigns on capturing the state attorney general's office and a central Indiana congressional seat that's competitive after decades as a GOP bastion.
A record number of more than 1.7 million voters cast ballots ahead of Election Day.
The flood of Indiana voters choosing mail-in ballots or heading to early voting sites has kept up as the final votes are being cast in this year's election. With more than 1.5 million votes cast heading into the weekend, Indiana is on its way to doubling the number of early votes cast during the 2016 presidential election and has already tallied more than half of the 2.8 million total votes cast that year. The Indiana secretary of state's office, which oversees state election policy, said 1,515,641 voters had cast ballots by mail or in-person at an early voting location as of Friday morning. More than 560,000 mail-in ballots were requested by the Oct. 22 deadline, although not all have been returned to county election offices yet.
A federal appeals court has upheld a law unique to Indiana that prohibits voters from asking county judges to extend voting hours beyond the state's 6 p.m. closing time on Election Day. The ruling throws out a federal judge's decision last month against the law passed in 2019 by Indiana's Republican-dominated Legislature. The law prohibits anyone other than a county election board from requesting court orders to extend voting hours if there are problems with voting on Election Day. The appeals court ruled that the law "does not place any burden on Indiana residents' constitutional right to cast a ballot."
*Counties are colored red or blue when the % expected vote reporting reaches a set threshold. This threshold varies by state and is based on patterns of past vote reporting and expectations about how the vote will report this year.
Indiana Governor's Race
Republicans won continued control of the Indiana governor's office and kept the state in the GOP's presidential column as voters cast the final ballots.
Gov. Eric Holcomb and President Donald Trump both won victories in the state for Republicans. Holcomb choked up during his victory speech while thanking his family. Holcomb said he was eager to continue his work over the next four years.
Holcomb said he would not support requiring residents to receive a COVID-19 vaccine once such immunizations become available.
The question of mandating such vaccines was asked during a debate among the Republican governor and his two election opponents as Indiana has continued to face steep increases in coronavirus-related deaths and hospitalizations stretching back to when Holcomb lifted nearly all of COVID-19 restrictions last month.
"It shouldn't be mandated but should be encouraged when it is safe," Holcomb said.
Holcomb has faced criticism from some conservatives around the state that he has exceeded his authority with a statewide mask mandate and executive orders such as the stay-at-home order he issued in March aimed at slowing the coronavirus spread.
Holcomb's stance comes even though Indiana law already requires 11 vaccines for public school students, including those for whooping cough, tetanus, measles and meningitis.
The governor said he wanted to make sure the vaccine can be quickly made available around the state.
"We want to make sure that we're ready to rock and roll when it does come to Indiana, getting it out to the front line, getting it out to the most vulnerable, getting it out to our schools and long-term care centers," Holcomb said.
Democratic challenger Woody Myers, a physician and former state health commissioner, didn't say whether he supported requiring a COVID-19 vaccine but said immunizations have been cost-effective life savers for many years. He said he hoped a coronavirus vaccine was available soon.
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"We don't know the full side-effect profiles yet and we don't know all of those restrictions, but they are going to be coming," Myers said.
Some opponents of Holcomb's coronavirus actions have rallied around Libertarian Donald Rainwater, who has been firmly against the statewide mask mandate. He argued any vaccine will have side effects and health risks.
"It must be a citizen's responsibility to determine what level of risk they're willing to take, what level of risk they are willing to put their children under and government should not be involved in that decision," Rainwater said.
State health officials on Tuesday added 51 coronavirus-related deaths to Indiana's toll, which has reached 4,194, including confirmed and presumed coronavirus infections, since the state's first death was reported in mid-March. Indiana's number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has roughly doubled in the past month.
The debate came a week after the three candidates sparred over Holcomb's coronavirus orders and less than a week before Election Day, although at least 1.2 million votes had already cast with mail-in ballots or at early voting sites.
Holcomb has been able to keep up a front-runner campaign for a second four-year term with large advantages of name identification, fundraising and organization over Myers and Rainwater.
Myers has argued that Holcomb shouldn't have lifted nearly all of COVID-19 restrictions last month and should impose a statewide mask mandate that includes possible penalties for violators. Rainwater, meanwhile, maintains the governor has exceeded his authority with executive orders that include the statewide mask mandate.
The candidates split during the debate on the question of changing state laws that prohibit any possession or use of marijuana.
Myers said he supported allowing medical marijuana and removing criminal penalties for possessing small amounts. Rainwater called for complete legalization without any state regulation of marijuana sales.
Holcomb maintained his previous stance against any marijuana law changes as long as it is classified by the federal government as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, which means it's not accepted for medical use and has a high potential for abuse.
Holcomb said he didn't believe there was enough medical research into the effects of marijuana use, even though states such as Illinois and Michigan have already legalized its recreational use and Ohio permits medical marijuana.
"I'm very suspect about looking to legalize controlled substances for revenue reasons," Holcomb said. "I don't do things just because 34 other states have looked the other way and said we don't need federal approval, we'll break the law, in essence."
Indiana Attorney General's Race
Democrats also fell short in their bid to win the state attorney general's office, with former U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita winning the seat.
The Democratic candidate for Indiana attorney general had caled on the state to legalize marijuana, saying that doing so would reduce the state's prison and jail populations and generate millions of dollars for public education.
Jonathan Weinzapfel said in a statement he believes that if Indiana lawmakers approved regulated marijuana sales to adults, it would help the state recover economically from the coronavirus pandemic and reduce "jail overcrowding across the state."
The former Evansville mayor noted that neighboring Illinois and Michigan have already legalized recreational use of marijuana, while neighboring Ohio permits medical marijuana.
Indiana House seat still up for grabs
A central Indiana congressional seat that Democrats hoped to win after decades as a GOP bastion was undecided Tuesday night.
Republican Victoria Spartz and Democrat Christina Hale faced each other for the seat that's been a GOP bastion for decades.
The winner will replace Republican Rep. Susan Brooks, who didn't seek reelection this year. Spartz was cheered by supporters as they celebrated the preliminary vote tallies.
Hale did not speak in public Tuesday night, with her campaign saying it was still monitoring the vote totals.
Indiana Democratic chairman leaving after 8 years in post
The Indiana Democratic Party's chairman says he will step down from the position when his term ends in March, a change that will come after several years of devastating election losses for the party.
John Zody, who has been the state chairman for eight years, said Friday he had decided before Tuesday's election results that he wouldn't seek a third term.
Indiana Democrats were routed in this year's election, losing the governor and state attorney general races by wide margins and failing to win an expensive race for a central Indiana congressional seat.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.