An Indiana House bill that would further restrict absentee voting in Indiana was amended by the Senate Elections Committee on Monday to restore absentee voting to its current parameters.
HB 1116 would have limited absentee voting by mail beyond Indiana limits by requiring voters to swear they could not vote during the entire in-person early voting period. Some counties in Indiana allow early voting up to 28 days before Election Day, but availability varies by county.
Indiana law only allows voters with eligible disabilities or Election Day conflicts to receive an absentee ballot.
The committee accepted an amendment from Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, to remove mail-in voting language from the bill, which deals with electronic voting machines and voter verification.
Walker said the bill’s language limiting absentee voting gave him pause, as he had previously backed bills to eliminate absenteeism requirements because they were “unenforceable.”
“I don’t see it giving us any more security or accountability,” Walker said. “On the contrary, I would say it offers a bit of doubt and confusion.”
Walker said Marion County plans to invest $1.5 million in a system to process mail-in ballots and send updates to voters as they are received and processed.
“I see the technology addressing some of the concerns some may have about accuracy and accountability,” Walker said. “Absentee voting by mail is not going away. We have those who are expatriates abroad… We simply have no other safe way to retrieve their ballot.
The bill will require counties to adopt VPAT technology by July 2024 rather than December 31, 2029. VPAT technology allows voters to receive a physical paper copy of their ballot to confirm their vote was properly cast .
Senate Elections Committee Chairman Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, said he believed adding printers would allow all voters to confirm that their vote choices were recorded correctly.
Several county clerks, who are responsible for overseeing elections, said they were concerned about an unfunded term if the Legislative Assembly extended the current deadline that allows paperless machines to remain in service until 2029.
Funding is available for state and federal counties and some county clerks said the funding would allow them to accomplish the changes on the new date — as long as the funds remain available.
Despite the change, voting rights groups still had concerns about other provisions of the bill, including requiring people applying for an online vote to share their driver’s license or the four last digits of their social security number.
“I would like to push back against this idea that somehow the current online application process by mail is not secure. I don’t think we have any real evidence of that,” Julia said. Vaughn, Indiana Policy Director at Common Cause Indiana “I remain concerned that requiring additional information … will cause some people to think twice and choose not to go this route to request a postal vote.
“Until we really have proof that there is a problem, I think we should keep the status quo.”
The committee voted to pass the bill 6-2, with both Democrats opposing the bill. Due to the tax provisions of HB 1116, the bill is referred to the Appropriations Committee.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.