Julia Vaughn: Legislation raises more hurdles for Hoosier voters

According to the Cost of Voting study conducted by Northern Illinois University in 2020, Indiana’s restrictive voting laws make casting a ballot in the Hoosier state more difficult than most others. Our ranking was 41st in 2020, and if House Bill 1334 passes, it adds hurdles that are sure to get worse.

Sponsored by Rep. Tim Wesco, R-Osceola, the bill puts additional restrictions on voting by mail-in Indiana, even though we already have laws in place that strictly limit access to a mail-in ballot.

The legislation’s worst section has been billed as an attempt to bring consistency to our voting laws by putting the same voter ID requirements in place for absentee-by-mail voting as those for in-person voting. In reality, this legislation is yet another attempt by the Republican supermajority to put additional hurdles in place before voters can access their ballot.

House Bill 1334 would require anyone using a paper form to apply to vote absentee by mail to include a copy of their Indiana driver’s license or include their voter identification number, which the form will suggest is the last four digits of the voter’s social security number.

That’s the first new hurdle that voters will have to scale because many of us don’t know what our voter ID number is on file for us, and it’s not always the last four digits of our social. This is particularly true for voters who have been registered at the same address for many years. That’s because Indiana didn’t start requiring voter registration applicants to provide any ID number until the early 2000s, when the statewide voter file was created and hundreds of thousands of voters were assigned a random voter ID number.

I’m one of those people – I’ve been registered at the same address since 1999 and have no idea what my randomly assigned number is. So, to complete all the information that will be required on the application, I would need to contact the Marion County Election Board and get that information from them, inserting another step into the process.

Because I’m hyper-familiar with Indiana voting laws, I’ll know to make that call, but most voters won’t have a clue. Instead, they will write down a number that may not match what’s on file for them, and their absentee ballot application will be rejected.

It’s important to remember that because our state puts limits on who can vote by mail, most Hoosiers who cast a mail-in ballot are elderly or disabled. They are least able to jump over new hurdles like providing a copy of a driver’s license or playing “guess my Voter ID number” with county officials.

While this proposal is bad for voters, it’s also going to create problems for county election administrators. The last thing that overwhelmed election workers need are new bureaucratic barriers to the ballot that make their jobs more complicated and time-consuming, but that’s exactly what House Bill 1334 is going to do.

Supporters of the legislation claim it is necessary to tighten security around mail-in voting, even though there is no evidence of widespread fraud. Meanwhile, we have plenty of proof that Indiana’s voting laws, heavy with early deadlines, ID requirements and other bureaucratic obstacles, suppress voter turnout. The General Assembly should be removing hurdles to voting, not creating more.

Julia Vaughn is the executive director of Common Cause Indiana, a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy. This commentary was originally published on indianacapitalchronicle.com. Send comments to [email protected]