By Alexa Shrake
INDIANAPOLIS—The House Elections and Apportionment Committee heard testimony Tuesday on an election bill many are comparing to the one passed recently in Georgia. Lawmakers said the bill would create more security when it comes to voting absentee, but there is no proof of significant fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
Senate Bill 353 is being considered as Georgia is seeing the fallout from a controversial election bill that caused businesses like Coca-Cola and JPMorgan Chase to boycott and Major League Baseball to pull the All-Star Game from Atlanta. While the bills have significant differences—for example, Indiana’s does not include the provision that voters cannot be offered food or water while waiting in line at the polls—both require additional documentation when applying for an absentee ballot.
Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita says Senate Bill 353 would prevent voter fraud by adding requirements to absentee applications. Photo by Alexa Shrake, The Statehouse File.
The bill authored by Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, would limit the authority to change the “time, place or manner of holding an election’’—including the loosening of requirements for absentee voting—to the General Assembly. Currently, the requirement to obtain an absentee ballot is to fill out an application and to meet certain criteria such as being in poor health or out of the voting precinct at the time of the election.
In 2020, Gov. Eric Holcomb delayed the primary election from May until June and loosened restrictions on absentee voting as Indiana coped with the outbreak of COVID-19. Under this bill, he would not be able to do either. Holcomb has already announced that he plans to veto another bill that would limit his powers as governor to declare an emergency order.
During the committee meeting Tuesday, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita said the General Assembly should set the time, manner and date of an election.
Rokita said there have been several cases of voter fraud in Indiana and the bill is a way to prevent that. However, the Indiana Democratic Party says the bill would create more barriers for voters.
“Using the power of an elected office to peddle misinformation and debunked conspiracy theories should be beneath any elected leader—that is unless you’re Attorney General Todd Rokita,” said the Indiana Democratic Party in a statement.
“The attorney general’s testimony this morning for the Georgia-like Senate Bill 353 was an embarrassing display of extreme partisanship and a desperate attempt to appease an out-of-office former U.S. president and a dangerous political agenda.”
Under current law, Hoosiers scan their IDs and sign before entering the voting booth. Hoosiers must fill out an absentee application before being granted a mail-in ballot. When Rokita was secretary of state, he pushed the requirement to show an ID when voting into law.
Several Hoosiers traveled to testify against the bill, including Julia Vaughn with Common Cause Indiana.
“What you are doing is an overreach,” Vaughn said.
Vaughn brought up potential problems with the bill—for example, if the driver’s license number or voter number doesn’t match when requesting an absentee ballot, then it will be thrown out. She said she does not know what number is in her voter file from when she registered to vote.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 25% of Black voters don’t have ID compared to 8% of white voters. Lawmakers argue that getting an ID is free. The underlying documents required to get an ID, however, require money and travel, which can be barriers to those with disabilities or no access to transportation. More than 21 million Americans do not have an ID, according to the ACLU.
Steve Fry, senior vice president of human resources and diversity for Eli Lilly and Co., said the company opposes the bill.
“All voices need to be heard in our country,” Fry said.
The House sponsor of the bill, Rep. Timothy Wesco, R-Osceola, said several other states have similar voter security measures and argued that Indiana should have additional security in the wake of the 2020 election.
Houchin said she is open to making adjustments to the language of the bill.
“I urge the committee to consider that we should also have the same standard when we vote by absentee,” Houchin said.
The bill is set to hear amendments and be voted on in the House Elections and Apportionment Committee at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.
Alexa Shrake is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.