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House committee tightens rules for vote-by-mail applications, backs off greater restrictions

Lauren Chapman
IPB News
Proposed legislation would ban marking or highlighting an absentee ballot application. The application in the photo, from the 2020 primary, would be deemed defective.

Voting by mail in Indiana will get a little harder under legislation approved by a House committee Wednesday. But the bill originally went a lot further in restricting vote-by-mail.

One of the reasons you can currently vote absentee by mail is if you’re unable to vote on Election Day. The bill, HB 1334, originally expanded that to say you must also be unavailable to vote in person in the 28 days before Election Day. But that provision was eliminated from the measure.

Instead, the legislation focuses on mail-in applications for absentee voting. It says you must include the last four digits of your Social Security number and another ID measure – either your driver’s license or state identification number or, if you don’t have those, a voter identification number on file with the state voter registration system.

St. Joseph County Clerk Amy Rolfes said that same requirement already exists for online vote-by-mail applications.

“It is time to require that all voters provide proof of identification, whether they vote in person or by absentee mail,” Rolfes said.

Alternatively, you could submit the last four of your Social Security number and a photocopy of your driver's license or state ID card.

Rolfes called the current voter signature requirement for absentee ballots “subjective.”

READ MORE: How do I follow Indiana’s legislative session? Here’s your guide to demystify the process

Join the conversation and sign up for the Indiana Two-Way. Text "Indiana" to 73224. Your comments and questions in response to our weekly text help us find the answers you need on statewide issues throughout the legislative session. And follow along with our bill tracker.

Monroe County Clerk Nicole Browne, representing the Indiana Clerks Association, said the bill isn’t necessary.

“Should this bill pass, the measures described would make it more difficult for segments of legally registered voters to cast a ballot, not easier,” Browne said.

The measure also bans anyone from marking or highlighting the absentee ballot application.

LeAnn Angerman, Lake County Board of Elections assistant director, supports that ban.

"The practice of highlighting is designed to prompt, on an official form, how a person should request a ballot," Angerman said. "I think that causes confusion and may lead a voter to unintentionally choose a selection other than what they intended."

But Indiana Election Division Co-Director Angie Nussmeyer said highlighting information on the application was useful when she ran elections in Marion County.

"My team would send letters to the voter to tell them that their absentee ballot application rejected and we would highlight the fields that they omitted to complete," Nussmeyer said.

The bill was approved along party lines.

Brandon is our Statehouse bureau chief. Contact him at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.
Copyright 2023 IPB News.

Brandon Smith

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