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Two bills at the statehouse could create changes ahead of the general election

Voting
Posted at 10:18 PM, Feb 26, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-26 22:18:44-05

INDIANAPOLIS — From federal to local elections, this year there will be many important races on the ballot.

Two bills working their way through the statehouse could change things for voters at the ballot box. However, they do two very different things.

Senate bill 170, which has bipartisan support, would make it a level 6 felony to interfere with an election workers job or intimidate them. It aims to protect them from people who might harass them.

"I polled my poll workers the other day and they like the idea of it,” Barbra Tully with the League of Women Voters of Indiana said. “They said 'sure!' It's hard enough to get election workers in Indiana, why would we not want to expand this to people like us?"

Another bill, House bill 1264, has both democrats and republicans at odds. The bill’s author says it aims to clean up the voter rolls. The bill creates new rules for first time Indiana voters.

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It requires people who register in person for the first time to provide an ID or bill proving their address. That is if they don’t have a drivers license, state ID or last four of their social security number.

It also allows for the Secretary of state to compare voters rolls with commercially available data. They can do it through contracting for the information. The example of using credit agencies to verify a voter’s address was given.

In a statement the Secretary of State Diego Morales said the following:

“As the state’s Chief Election officer, Indiana Secretary of State Diego Morales believes that voter registration lists need to be accurate. HB 1264 will give county clerks and voter registration boards tools to update voter information, including current address and citizenship status.”

The bill would also create a feature that flags nonresidential addresses. That way county clerks and other officials could investigate the flagged addresses and find out if they live in the area.

It would also require voting officials to compare their rolls to the BMV lists of people who have temporary credentials. It comes as much testimony claimed that the BMV is registering non-citizens. If someone is a citizen or they are properly registered to vote, they would have 30 days to prove they are qualified to do so.

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This bill is something the Indiana Clerks Association was split on. They testified neutral to the bill, mainly because many republican clerks support the legislation.

"It is important to establish a method to cross reference social security numbers with the Indiana BMV. The approach is essential to make sure,” Julia Roush the Tippecanoe County Clerk said during testimony on the bill.

But students who study out of state are concerned this could make it even harder for them to vote, especially since voter turnout in Indiana ranks 50th, according to Indiana Civic Health Index.

"You're at the mercy of the post office, so just how easy it is for your registration to be challenged? Even the most type A diligent student is going to have issues,” Jalyn Radziminski an out of state Hoosier student said.

The changes are complicated and can be confusing to voters too which is why voting rights groups have a suggestion to lawmakers

"Put it in a summer study committee,” Tully said.

If this legislation passes it would go into effect in July according to the bills fiscal note. Several voting rights organizations sent a letter to lawmakers you can read that letter in full below:

2/16/2024

2/16/2024
Dear Senator Gaskill:

We are writing to express our opposition to HB1264 and hope that you will consider our objections and not allow this legislation to pass out of your committee. Courts have struck down such laws in Texas, with lengthy and expensive litigation and trials are proceeding in Georgia, Arizona, and elsewhere. This bill will not result in more secure elections in Indiana, which are already among the most secure in the nation. It will make registering to vote and exercising the right to vote more difficult, particularly for new and young voters. Since Indiana ranked 50th for voter turnout in 2022, this bill most certainly takes us in the wrong direction. We are calling on you to stop this from happening.

For many of us, the most troubling section of HB1264 calls for a crosscheck of the statewide voter file with a list of people who have been issued temporary credentials from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles in an attempt to identify and purge non-citizens. The data from the BMV used for this review will be outdated and will result in numerous false matches. The state will end up challenging the voter registrations of new citizens which hardly upholds our state motto of “Hoosier hospitality” and creates two classes of voters in Indiana, which violates the U.S. Constitution and other federal laws.

The 30-day period during which a challenged voter will be allowed to prove their eligibility to vote in Indiana is woefully inadequate. Your committee heard testimony from an immigration attorney who said that it can take months, and cost more than a thousand dollars to obtain proof of citizenship documents. This failsafe procedure does not provide adequate protection for those individuals who will inevitably be wrongfully identified through the use of outdated information.

Our organizations are also troubled by the sections of the bill that will require some voter registrants to prove their place of residence before their registration application will be fully processed. This is a major policy change from processes that have been in place and implemented by local election authorities since the Help America Vote Act was implemented more than twenty years ago. This bill will have an inordinate impact on high school and college students, young voters who live with their parents, and unhoused individuals.

Another troubling section in HB1264 will allow the state to contract with credit reporting agencies and other entities in a misguided attempt to update addresses in the statewide voter file. Legitimate concerns have been raised about the accuracy of this information and the privacy concerns that are raised by co-mingling these two sources of information about Hoosier voters. A better approach would be to utilize the United States Postal Services’ National Change of Address system to track down the most recent address of a Hoosier voter.

Additionally, we have concerns about the section that creates a process for counties to search for voters who are registered at a non-residential address. Many of the tools that have been proposed to confirm residential addresses use inaccurate, inexact, or outdated information that is not reliable enough for voter records purposes. Even things like zoning laws are not appropriate for voter registration research, as zoning designations and laws change frequently. Unreliable results would be a significant source of investigations which have no clear parameters or direction, leading to abuse and unfairness.

This bill will greatly stymie the efforts of nonpartisan groups who conduct voter registration drives because some of the applications they deliver won’t get fully processed without further documentation.

In sum, HB1264 is unnecessary and if it becomes law, it will create more work for county election offices and threaten the voting rights of eligible citizens. Courts across the country have struck down and scrutinized such laws. Rushing this bill through the process in a short session is irresponsible and unwise. If these are real problems that must be addressed, solutions should be vetted in a summer study committee.

We urge you to do the right thing and not allow HB1264 to clear your committee in its current form.
Julia Vaughn, Common Cause Indiana; Ami Gandhi, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights; Kerwin Olson, Citizens Action Coalition; Phil Goodchild, Indiana Friends Committee on Legislation; Chris Chyung, Indiana Conservation Voters; Jalyn Radziminski, Count Us Indiana; Rev. David Green, Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis; Ephrin Jenkins, Black Labor Week; Shannon Anderson, Earth Charter Indiana; Melissa Borja and Michelle Dahl, Hoosier Asian American Power; Tracey Hutchings-Goetz, Hoosier Action; Melissa Gruver, Vanessa Pachero, Lacey Davidson, Indiana Task Force Barbara Tully, Indiana Vote by Mail; Linda Hanson, League of Women Voters of Indiana; Chelsea McDonnel, MadVoters Indiana; Jenn Watts, Stand Up Indiana; Kennedy Phillips, Women for Change