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State Senate guts bill that would have restricted absentee voting in Indiana

HB 1116 would have restricted mail voting
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Posted at 12:01 PM, Feb 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-14 12:33:08-05

INDIANAPOLIS — An effort to restrict voting by mail in Indiana could be in trouble, after a state Senate committee essentially gutted the main provision of a House bill that would have made absentee voting more difficult.

The Senate Elections Committee voted Monday to amend HB 1116 to preserve the state's current absentee voting rules. The amendment states that any Hoosier voter is allowed to vote by mail if they are unable to vote in person on Election Day.

The amendment was approved unanimously by a voice vote of the committee, and the entire bill was later approved on a 6-2 vote. It now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee, since part of it deals with the spending of state revenue.

HB 1116 would have limited absentee voting to those who were unable to vote in person for an entire early voting period. The most controversial provision stated that Hoosiers would have to swear under penalty of perjury that they could not vote in person 28 days before an election in order to qualify for a mail ballot.

The bill's author, Rep. Tim Wesco, R-Osceola defended the proposal as an updating of the state’s mail-in ballot law to reflect the greater availability of early in-person voting over the past couple decades.

He also said it would boost Hoosiers' "confidence" in elections. It's a phrase used by Republican-controlled legislatures across the country following the large number of legal absentee votes cast in the 2020 presidential election, won by Democrat Joe Biden over Republican Donald Trump.

Trump and a number of Republicans continue to claim fraud from that election, which is not true — there were a literal handful of fraudulent ballots cast, including several illegal votes for Trump.

However, it has led to a push to restrict absentee voting in several states where Republicans have control of government ahead of this year's midterm elections in which the GOP hopes to retake control of Congress.

Democrats and voting rights activists cited hours long lines at early voting sites in Indianapolis during the 2020 election and said making mail voting more difficult would discourage people from choosing the voting method that is most convenient to them.

HB 1116 also requires counties that use electronic voting machines to add paper trails for voting records no later than July 1, 2024, but the bill does not set aside any money for counties to pay for adding those paper trails.

However, the Senate committee on Monday amended the bill to only require counties to add the paper trails if they receive money from the state or federal government.

The bill also adds what supporters say is a security measure to absentee ballot applications, requiring you to provide your driver's license number or the last four digits of your social security number.

If the bill survives in its current form in the Senate, the House would have to agree with the change to the original absentee ballot language, or else the bill will die.