Make your home page

Indiana Senate panel dials back changes to mail-in voting rules

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Voting-rights groups on Monday said changes to a voting bill were an improvement, but more work is needed.

When a Republican-backed election security bill arrived in the Senate Elections Committee on Monday morning, it included a major change to the state’s mail-in voting rules.

Currently, voters can ask for a mail-in absentee ballot if, on Election Day, they will be out of town, they will be working during the entire 12-hour polling period, or they can’t leave their homes due to illness or injury.

The bill included language stipulating that you could only ask for a mail-in ballot if those circumstances were true both on Election Day and during the 28-day early voting period. At the recommendation of Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, the committee removed the language during the hearing, which means the rules for who can vote early would remain unchanged if the bill becomes law.

Walker said he would like to see Indiana adopt no-excuse early voting. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 27 states and the District of Columbia have already done so. Another eight states conduct elections entirely by mail.

“Absentee vote by mail is not going to go away,” he said. “We have those that are expatriates overseas. We have those that we just don’t have any other secure means to collect their ballot today.”

Voting rights advocates said the committee’s decision was an improvement, but they’re still concerned by another provision regarding absentee ballots: a requirement that anyone requesting a ballot online provide their driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security Number to verify their identity.

Ami Gandhi, senior counsel for the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, said this provision could further deter people from voting.

“We saw some of those most serious threats and proposals tamped down this morning but, unfortunately, there are still the threats of disenfranchisement present in this bill that moved forward,” she said.

The bill also moves up to July 2024 the deadline for counties to have verifiable paper trails for electronic voting machines.

The measure still would have to get through the full Senate, which could amend it further, after which the House would have to decide whether to accept the Senate’s changes.