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Local elected leaders weigh in on bill that would change absentee voting, election protocols

The Indiana House Election and Apportionment Committee heard a controversial bill on Tuesday that would change absentee voting and election protocol.

Posted: Apr 6, 2021 9:59 PM
Updated: Apr 6, 2021 11:10 PM

TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) - The Indiana House Election and Apportionment Committee heard a controversial bill on Tuesday that would change absentee voting and election protocol. Senate Bill 353 would put more steps in place for someone to vote absentee or by mail. It also takes power away from those who can influence voter expansion and change election dates and locations.

"If it's not broken then don't fix it," said State Senator Ron Alting. "I think Indiana did a pretty good job."

Indiana is one of 47 states proposing legislation that would add more restrictions to voting in the name of election security. Indiana lawmakers have also proposed several bills that would make voting more accessible, but many of those bills died in January. Senator Alting does not support Senate Bill 353 in any capacity.

"In my opinion its voter suppression," he said. "Particularly those with economic distressed areas and people of color."

The bill requires an absentee ballot application to include the driver's license number or last four digits of the person's Social Security number. If a person is registered with their driver's license, but requests an absentee ballot with their Social Security number, it would reject your application. 

It also "Prohibits the Indiana election commission from: (1) instituting, increasing, or expanding vote by mail or absentee vote by mail; and (2) changing the time, place, or manner of holding an election." And would take the powers out of the governor's hands to change an election day during a declared disaster emergency.

"There has always been fraud there will always be fraud," said Andrew Downs, a political science professor at Purdue Fort Wayne. "The question is what do we do to make sure that the system is secure as possible without inhibiting voting."

Downs said all the states proposing different voter restriction bills is a reaction to the false claims that the election was fraudulent. And while Indiana may have had a safe election, this bill could be seen as further protection for the future. He said another way to look at this bill is putting absentee voting and in-person voting on the same playing field. Currently, you need a photo ID to vote in person, but there is no further identification requirements when voting by mail.

"We know from research that if you expand or make it easier for people to vote that does help voter turn out to go up a little bit, and if you restrict it it only makes it go down a little bit," he said. "So all of these changes only make little changes at the margin in terms of turn out."

Tippecanoe County Clerk Julie Roush doesn't see requiring the ID numbers in absentee voting as a voter suppression and she supports that part of the bill, especially if it is applied to people who are voting from abroad.

"If you're a registered voter in Indiana we already have, for the most part, one of those ID's," she said. "If a problem comes up where your ID's don't match, we're going to get in contact with you to figure it out."

She agreed with Downs that his bill would be an equalizer to in-person and absentee voting. She said it would also help prevent third parties from circulating your personal identification numbers in the mail. She said any political group can pre-fill out absentee ballot applications with all of your personal information and mail it to you so all you have to do is sign it and mail it back to request your ballot. Roush said it's dangerous to have these applications floating around in the mail with that kind of information.

She also can support taking power away from the Indiana Election Commission because the people on the commission are appointed, and are not elected by the people. However, Roush and Alting both strongly agree that the governor's power to make decisions should not be taken away.

"The governor is going to seek advice," she said. "They are going to go to the Indiana election commission, they are going to go to the secretary of state, they are going to go to the Indiana election division before they make that ruling."

"They would have to call in 150 people of the legislature to address an election and it would take a month before anything would happen, and then the election would be over," said Sen. Alting. "Most of the constituents that I represent would say during this last election, our governor did a fantastic job on opening up the election so that every citizen had the right to vote."

Sen. Alting said that he has been fighting such legislation for his entire career as a State Senator. He voted against SB 353 when it was on the Senate floor in March and he said he will continue to oppose the bill so long as it reads as it does.

Roush agreed that the state of Indiana did a phenomenal job in supporting and working with local election officials during this pandemic. She said the state made common sense adjustments to fit the needs of the pandemic and that they did not have any "knee jerk" reactions. She also agreed with Sen. Alting's point that relying on the state legislature to make these kinds of decisions would probably take too long, and it's better to have a single elected official, like a governor, making those calls.

If this bill passes and is signed by the governor, Downs recommends that people get their registration identification figured out. He said you can call your local clerk's office and they can tell whether you registered with your driver's license or your Social Security number. 

The House Elections and Apportionment Committee did not actually vote on the bill Tuesday. The committee is expected to make that vote later this week. However, Thursday is the deadline to get all bills out of committee.

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