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Voting Changes Would Disempower Elderly, Military, Disabled

Indiana lawmakers are considering changes to an absentee voting measure that would alter who may deliver absentee ballot applications and what proof of identification is required to obtain a ballot.

(TNS) — Hoosier voters using mail-in ballots or the county travel board in November may find it more difficult to obtain that ballot in the first place if proposed changes to the state's voting laws are approved.

The Indiana Senate Committee on Elections heard testimony Monday concerning an absentee voting measure that would change who may deliver absentee ballot applications to voters and what proof of identification is required from voters to be able to obtain a ballot.

Republican lawmakers say the measure makes the identification requirements process for voting by mail or travel board the same as that for in-person early and absentee voting. The move, the say, will increase the security of the state's election process and add a layer of protection against voter fraud.

Their Democratic counterparts — and a list of bipartisan voters' and civil rights' organizations — say the measure duplicates existing processes and laws and will disenfranchise the most vulnerable of voters: the elderly, disabled and members of the military.

House Bill 1334 would prohibit agencies such as the election board and clerk's office and its employees from delivering an application for an absentee ballot unless that application was requested by the voter or a member of that voter's family, according to the Indiana General Assembly website. Ballot applications can be delivered in person by a clerk only if it is done for every rejected application request.

Applications for an absentee ballot must include certain identification numbers such as the last four digits of the voter's social security number, a driver's license or state ID number, or a voter identification number that applies to voters who registered prior to 2001 and have not since updated their registration to include the last for digits of their social security number of a state-issued ID number, the summary continues.

In lieu of providing the identifying numbers, voters may include a photocopy of the applicant's driver's license or identification card for non-drivers or other specified proof of identification. While only one piece of documentation is required, the summary goes on to explain that applicants can supply more than one piece of identifying documentation to help prevent delays in verifying a voter's identity. The application may be delayed if the county election board cannot match at least one of the numbers with the voter's registration record.

Jim Wieser, chairman of the Lake County Democratic Party, said the bill — if approved — would codify the disenfranchisement of the state's vulnerable populations.

"From a global perspective, from the perspective of a county chairman who is the leader of a party that believes strongly in access to voting, who believes strongly we should make voting as easy and as accessible as we possibly can: This bill is the exact opposite," Wieser said, calling the measure unconstitutional.

It targets and challenges those who most need to use the absentee ballots, particularly senior citizens and people with disabilities and those in the military, Wieser said. The measure would disenfranchise voters in economically depressed areas who tend to vote Democrat, but also those in the military and seniors, who generally lean Republican, a move Wieser described as mind-boggling.

He took strong exception to an aspect of the law that would add an informational line under the signature line for third parties who are helping a voter obtain an absentee ballot application. Third parties must sign the form and attest it is true to the best of their knowledge under penalty of perjury. The law would require the penalties for perjury to be printed under the signature line.

"Not only do we want to disenfranchise all these groups ... We are looking to throw some people in jail for helping somebody out," Wieser said.

On the other side of the aisle, Randy Niemeyer, the Lake County Republican Party chairman, said security and accountability of elections are the most important factors. He said the law adds another layer of accountability by requiring voters to provide proof of their identity. The measure would prevent ballot harvesting by preventing pre-filled applications. Requiring identification to vote is not a hinderance, he said.

"There is nothing we do in this world without some for of identification. Identification is something widely available and easy to get," Niemeyer said.

LeAnn Angerman, Republican deputy director of the county's election board, said she supports the legislation and said she thinks it pushes for providing the same level of scrutiny for absentee voting that if found for in person voting.

"I do believe the state has a legitimate interest in promoting election integrity. I think HB 1334 does that for Hoosiers and makes an effort to boost voter confidence," Angerman said. Providing the additional information allows for a greater possibility for the voter's identity to be verified and the application to be processed, she said.

She said she does not anticipate any problems with implementing the new rules if approved.

"We flex to accommodate to court orders, case law and any other changes whenever they occur. Flexing to come into compliance with state law is just something we do every day. I have the utmost confidence our staff will be able to be in complete compliance," Angerman said.

Michelle Fajman, Democratic director of Lake County's election board, said compliance will come with a cost. The added layers of verification will slow down the application process, so additional employees will be needed to ensure applications are processed in a timely fashion.

Currently, when the bipartisan committee that reviews absentee ballot applications for compliance rejects an application, the office sends out notification to the voter the application was rejected along with a new application so it can be resubmitted. The new law would prohibit that practice, forcing the impacted voter to call and request an application once notification theirs was rejected is received.

The tight time frame means some voters may not have the time to submit their application, receive notice by mail it is rejected, request a new application, have it sent out by mail, and resubmit the application in time to comply with deadlines depending on the speed of mail service, Fajman said. Indiana only accepts absentee ballots by mail through election day, regardless the day the ballot is post-marked.

The legislation would also negatively impact outreach efforts the board of elections makes to reach senior voters in nursing homes. Normally, the election board would coordinate a day and time for the travel board to go to various nursing homes so interested residents could vote.

"That outreach program is dead in the water," Fajman said.

Appointments for the travel board would have to be made individually through the voter under the new legislation.

"I think it is a horrible, horrible piece of legislation that will lead to the disenfranchisement of mean of our voters needing absentee ballots the most," Fajman said.

(c)2023 the Post-Tribune (Merrillville, Ind.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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