The Indiana Senate Elections Committee on Monday approved a bill that would prevent the Indiana Election Commission or the governor from changing the date, time and place of an election.
Senate Bill 353, authored by Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, initially would have required proof of citizenship in order to register to vote in the state. But the committee stripped that language from the legislation during Monday’s hearing and replaced it with language that would give only the Indiana General Assembly the authority to change the date of an election.
“That role, I believe, is exclusively, constitutionally a responsibility of the Legislature,” Houchin said. “So the language in the bill is just to make it clear that the time, manner and place of the election can only be changed by the General Assembly.”
Gov. Eric Holcomb signed an executive order in March that postponed the date of Indiana’s primary election from May 5 to June 2 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He announced the postponement with the support of Secretary of State Connie Lawson, Indiana Republican Party Chairman Kyle Hupfer and Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody.
Houchin said if the Legislature wasn’t in session and the election date needed to be changed, there would be a way for the General Assembly to convene.
Currently, only the governor can call for a special session of the General Assembly, but that could change after this year. For example, House Bill 1123 would create a new “emergency session” that could be called for by the Legislative Council during a statewide emergency. The House passed the bill 69-27 last week.
“In a true emergency, if something needs to be changed, my intention would be that we’d have to trigger a special session to address those functions,” Houchin said.
Also, before the primary, the Indiana Election Commission voted to expand the option to cast a ballot by mail to all voters. Under current law, Indiana voters are required to provide a reason they want to vote absentee, such as being required to work the entire 12 hours that polls are open or having a disability.
The amended bill would prevent the Indiana Election Commission from increasing or expanding absentee vote by mail options in the future. The commission did not expand vote-by-mail options before the general election in November.
The amended bill would also require anyone requesting an absentee ballot to provide their driver’s license number or last four digits of their social security number.
The committee approved the bill 7-2, with the two Democratic committee members voting against it.
Sen. Fady Qaddoura, D-Indianapolis, said he’d like to see the state expand the option to vote by mail to all registered voters, so communities don’t deal with long lines at the polls in the future. In Indianapolis last year, voters waited for hours to cast ballots at multiple polling locations.
“Regardless of someone’s political affiliation, I think it’s completely wrong for an American citizen to wait in line three to five hours to cast a vote,” Qaddoura said.