A Senate committee made major changes to a controversial elections bill Monday, eliminating language that would’ve added a new restriction to absentee mail-in voting.
Right now, you can get a mail-in ballot for about a dozen reasons. That includes if you attest you won’t be available on Election Day. A House-approved bill, HB 1116, would’ve expanded that to require a voter be unavailable in the 28 days before the election, too.
Sen. Greg Walker (R-Columbus) said that added restriction would create “doubt and confusion” among voters.
“I don’t see any evidence that it provides us any more security or accountability in the election process,” Walker said.
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Walker’s amendment to the bill in committee eliminated the new restriction.
The measure also moves up the deadline for counties to add a critical election security measure to their voting machines.
Election security experts widely agree that electronic voting machines should use “voter verifiable paper audit trails,” or VVPATs. That’s a paper backup that allows counties to conduct post-election audits and helps voters check that they’re casting their ballot for who they intended.
Current law says counties have until 2030 to add the paper backups. The bill moves that up to July 1, 2024. But several county clerks testified that they don't have the money to meet the earlier deadline, with one clerk suggesting a county is prepared to lay off workers if forced to buy the paper backups without state support.
So, the Senate panel added a caveat – counties only have to meet the 2024 deadline if the state or federal government gives them money to buy the VVPATs.
Some who testified Monday raised concerns about another provision in the bill, one which went unchanged by the Senate committee. It would require voters who submit an application online for an absentee ballot to include their driver's license or Social Security number with the application.
Ami Gandhi, Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights senior counsel, said that requirement can be a barrier for those who are uncomfortable giving out such information online.
"If we want to have increased identification checks – like we do in other parts of the election code – it seems like, at the very least, we would have a more expansive list of IDs that are allowed," Gandhi said.
However, Democratic co-director of the Indiana Election Division, Angela Nussmeyer, testified that the driver's license/Social Security number requirement in the bill is simply putting into law what's already happening in practice. She said that requirement has been in place since the state made absentee ballot applications available online in 2020.
HB 1116 is now headed to the Senate Appropriations Committee.