Indiana panel drops contentious requirement from voting bill

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A legislative committee has overhauled a contentious proposal to require Indiana voters to submit identification numbers with mail-in ballot applications.

Changes to Senate Bill 353 approved Thursday by the House elections committee will only require submission of a voter’s Indiana driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number with online mail ballot applications.

The panel deleted provisions that Republicans had pushed through the Senate making voters put such numbers on paper applications. Some election officials and voting rights advocates argued that would create a hurdle for voters since they likely wouldn’t know which number is on file with county election officials and could lead to applications being rejected.

Committee Chairman Rep. Tim Wesco, a Republican from Osceola, said he believes the step would improve security for online ballot applications.

“It would make it more difficult for someone to request an absentee ballot for another person without their consent, because they would have to have that personal information,” Wesco said.

Democratic Rep. Tonya Pfaff of Terre Haute proposed the change, saying the ID numbers weren’t needed on paper applications since state law already required election workers to check the voter’s signature from registration records before sending out a mail-in ballot.

Republican sponsors of the bill, which now goes to the full House for consideration, argued it was aimed at preventing voter fraud by having similar voter ID requirements for mail voting as the state has for in-person voting at polling sites.

The proposal also drew opposition from Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co., with a top executive telling the committee Tuesday that the company believed the bill wasn’t needed and that it stoked false claims of widespread voting fraud during the 2020 election.

The committee also voted to drop a provision that would prohibit the state election commission from changing an election date or expanding mail-in voting options as it did by delaying the 2020 primary by a month with the support of Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and Indiana GOP and Democratic state party leaders during the early weeks of the state’s COVID-19 outbreak.

Democratic Rep. Matt Pierce of Bloomington said the state needed a mechanism to adjust elections in the event of a natural disaster without waiting for the Legislature to meet and approve changes.

Some committee members, however, still believed the state election commission, which is appointed by the governor, shouldn’t have that authority.

“I think it is proper for the Legislature to choose the time, date, manner of elections,” said Republican Rep. Ethan Manning of Logansport. “While I understand there are emergencies, I still think it’s important for the Legislature to be the primary driver of those policies.”

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