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Officials, advocates flag privacy, voter suppression concerns for election security bill

A voter sits at a machine with their phone in hand, making their selections.
Lauren Chapman
/
IPB News
Proponents said HB 1264 is about further ensuring Indiana's already secure elections are more secure. Voter advocates and election officials worry the bill goes too far and will make it harder for people to cast a ballot.

Election officials and voter advocates highlighted several issues with legislation in the Senate Elections Committee this week, including privacy concerns, potential lawsuits and voter suppression.

HB 1264 provides more ways to try to remove people from voter rolls. Proponents said it’s an effort to further secure Indiana’s elections.

That includes requiring the state to compare voter registration to Bureau of Motor Vehicles data on credentials given to noncitizens. People flagged by that comparison would have to show proof of citizenship to their county election officials within 30 days in order to be able to vote.

Immigration attorney Rachel Van Tyle said that’s simply not long enough.

“Currently in Indianapolis, I just looked it up, an average of seven months in order to obtain a certificate of citizenship,” Van Tyle said.

Van Tyle also noted that those certificates cost close to $1,400.

Marion County Clerk Kate Sweeney Bell said the BMV data is also often out-of-date.

“We will have to deal with the issue on Election Day when voters are erroneously canceled because of the bad data, and our poll workers will struggle to properly assist the voters and could unintentionally turn people away,” Bell said. “And we'll probably get sued.”

The measure also requires people registering to vote for the first time in person to show proof of residency. If the application doesn’t include the person’s Indiana driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number, additional proof would be needed — a current and valid photo ID or a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or government document that shows their name and address.

Those same requirements already apply to people registering by mail.

As part of the bill, Indiana Republican lawmakers also want the state to buy voters’ credit information as a way to potentially remove people from the voter rolls.

READ MORE: Why do incumbents have such a big advantage in elections?

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The legislation allows the secretary of state’s office to buy “commercially available data” from companies like Experian. It would then compare that information to the voter rolls, in an effort to identify people who don’t live where their voter registration says they do.

Wade Catt is a medical student from Wilbur, a small town. He said that provision is a “gross violation” of his privacy rights.

“Does any of you know how many stores there are in Wilbur, Indiana, where I can purchase groceries or gas? Zero,” Catt said. “Who gets to decide if I'm spending enough money in Wilbur to retain my status as a voter?”

Another provision would flag potentially nonresidential addresses and require local election officials to further investigate whether someone registered at those addresses actually lives there.

Tippecanoe County Clerk Julie Roush said election officials like her need more tools to weed out people who shouldn’t be on the voter rolls.

“Currently, our reliance on Social Security numbers for verification has proven inadequate,” Roush said. “While these numbers are important, they do not confirm residency.”

In order to remove someone from the voter rolls, county election officials would still have to follow federal guidelines. No voter could be removed from the rolls without first being notified, multiple times, through the mail. And even then, two federal election cycles would have to pass without them voting to be removed.

The Senate committee is expected to consider amendments to the bill and vote on it next week.

Brandon is our Statehouse bureau chief. Contact him at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

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Brandon Smith has covered the Statehouse for Indiana Public Broadcasting for more than a decade, spanning three governors and a dozen legislative sessions. He's also the host of Indiana Week in Review, a weekly political and policy discussion program seen and heard across the state. He previously worked at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and WSPY in Plano, Illinois. His first job in radio was in another state capitol - Jefferson City, Missouri - as a reporter for three stations around the Show-Me State.