After a federal appellate court stopped Indiana’s process for removing ineligible voters from the registration rolls, the state is still looking for a way to clean its voter lists. But a new system being considered by the Legislature is not gaining support among voting rights groups and could spark more litigation.
Senate Bill 334 calls for Indiana to create its own database to identify voters who may be registered in two or more states. Under the proposed system — dubbed the Indiana Data Enhancement Association, or IDEA — other states would join and provide their lists of registered voters to the database. Any matches would be flagged for further investigation by the appropriate states.
Opponents of IDEA say the system likely will not attract many other states to participate and could incur higher costs than anticipated. Moreover, they argue, rather than creating its own database, Indiana should follow a growing number of states and join the Electronic Registration Information Center, which has the reputation of providing data on voters that is accurate, reliable and nonbiased.
However, Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson and other supporters promote IDEA as being more secure and less costly than ERIC. They worry a breach of ERIC’s database would expose many individuals’ personal information because the voter registration and motor vehicle licensee files that member states submit are retained. Also, they believe the expense to participate would swell well beyond the annual membership dues, as they say happened in Florida when the Sunshine State had to pay $1.3 million to send mailings to the voters identified as being registered in other locations.
IDEA, according to supporters, will not retain the records from the participating states. Instead, after crosschecking and passing along the matches to the other states, the data will be deleted, lowering the security risk. As for cost, they say member states will not have to pay anything to join or use IDEA, while Indiana will likely incur an annual cost of roughly $50,000 to run the system.
Sen. Greg Walker, author of SB 334, said IDEA will provide competition in the marketplace by giving an alternative, especially if the federal government becomes involved with ERIC.
“I think there should be a decentralization in voting systems,” Walker, a Columbus Republican, said after the House Committee on Elections and Apportionment adopted the bill on a 6-4 vote. “… I think that’s healthy for elections throughout the country for states to remain independent rather than conforming to national models.”
The Electronic Registration Information Center is not connected to the federal government. It is an independent nonprofit that was formed in 2012 by seven states with assistance from The Pew Charitable Trusts and has grown to 29 states and the District of Columbia. Along with a one-time $25,000 fee to join the organization, the members pay annual dues determined by a formula that is based in part on the size of the state’s voting population.
Barbara Tully of the advocacy group Indiana Vote by Mail believes the state should keep the voter registration rolls clean, but she objects to the creation of IDEA. In particular, Tully said the Indiana system will be inefficient because, with the information being removed each time the matches are flagged, the database will then have to be recreated from scratch.
Also, Tully does not anticipate many states will want to participate in IDEA. The ERIC members — including Indiana’s neighbors of Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky — may not see much benefit to Indiana’s system, because joining would bring inefficiencies by requiring them to collect and file voter information separately with the Hoosier state.
“I think IDEA is a bad idea,” she said.
SB 334 deletes language from the Indiana Code that mandated the state participate in the Kansas Crosscheck system. The Hoosier state was already a member of Crosscheck when the passage of Senate Enrolled Act 442 in 2017 opened the door for a more robust use of the database.
Indiana was going to automatically remove just about any voter from the registration rolls who was flagged by the Crosscheck system. The state also was no longer going to send two notices as required by the National Voting Rights Act to attempt to confirm the voter had moved.
After the General Assembly passed SEA 442, two lawsuits were filed seeking to prevent Indiana from canceling voter registrations without notification. The Indiana NAACP and the League of Women Voters of Indiana filed a complaint, as did Common Cause Indiana, each asserting the 2017 law violated the voting rights act by not following federal procedure for canceling voter registrations.
An injunction issued by the Southern Indiana District Court was affirmed by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in August 2019.
“A name on a voter roll in Indiana is there only because a voter took the trouble to put it there,” 7th Circuit Chief Judge Diane Wood wrote. “Laws such as the NVRA ensure that the states do not undo that work without good reason.”
Although SB 334 gets Indiana out of Crosscheck, Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause Indiana, said the bill does not address the core problem that spurred the lawsuit: removing voters form the rolls without notification.
The state has to maintain an up-to-date list of voters, Vaughn said, echoing Tully, but the process has to protect and respect voting rights. Hoosiers should not arrive at the polling place on election day only to find out they are not on the list of eligible voters.
Passage of SB 334 will not resolve the lawsuits and, Vaughn said, may bring additional litigation.
“We will be watching it very closely to ensure it’s not used inappropriately like Crosscheck was,” she said.
On the Senate floor, Democratic Sen. J.D. Ford introduced an amendment that would have added a provision requiring Indiana to join ERIC. It was defeated on a voice vote, and the language in SB 334 goes further by prohibiting the state from participating in any other organization or system that searches voter registrations.
Rep. Chuck Moseley, ranking minority member on the House Committee for Elections and Apportionment, questioned the need to handcuff future secretaries of state. Walker responded that the statute does not prevent Indiana from joining something else — it just makes sure the decision is made by the Legislature.
“It should be the legislators’ policy,” Walker said. “If we do want to join ERIC and be offering IDEA at the same time, it’s something that the General Assembly should weigh in on.”
To Tully, the prohibitive language is shortsighted. Rather than learning from other states and incorporating best practices, Hoosier officials, she said, seem to take the position that only Indiana knows what is best in regard to voting.
“… When it comes to stuff like elections in Indiana, people are not dedicated to really looking at what works and (doesn’t work),” Tully said.
Vaughn said IDEA will be a distraction from the voting issues Indiana should be examining. The state’s voter turnout has been consistently below the national average, with 65.3% of eligible Hoosiers voting in 2018, ranking Indiana 37th in voter turnout, according to the 2019 Indiana Civic Health Index. In addition to raising voter participation, other concerns include election security and training of poll workers.
The secretary of state should be focusing on those issues instead of creating IDEA and trying to get other states to join, Vaughn said. “Indiana has better things to do.”•