The following commentary by Julia Vaughn, executive director of Common Cause Indiana, was originally published by the Indiana Capital Chronicle and is republished according to Indiana Capital Chronicle republishing guidelines.
For more than a decade, Indiana has ranked in the bottom 10 for voter turnout. You would think that embarrassing statistic would motivate lawmakers to address the issue.
Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening at the Indiana General Assembly this year. Instead of proposals designed to make voting more accessible, too many members of the Republican supermajorities in the House and Senate have been studying the Big Lie playbook and are introducing election bills to restrict voting access and play up unfounded fears of fraud.
It’s not like Hoosier Republicans are the only ones playing this cynical game. It’s happening across the country, including in neighboring Ohio, where their legislature just passed a set of voter suppression laws that are sure to be challenged in court. But just because our legislature isn’t unique doesn’t make this behavior any less maddening.
It really takes an amazing amount of chutzpah to say that Indiana elections are among the most secure in the country, and in the next breath say that despite that fact, we’ve got to crack down on election fraud. That’s the conversation we’ve been having in the House Elections Committee, where Chairman Tim Wesco, R-Osceola, is sponsoring a bill that would disenfranchise anyone who is convicted of felony election fraud for 10 years.
Let’s forget about the fact that this law, if passed, would apply to a miniscule amount of people. Felony vote fraud is extremely rare; in fact a Hoosier is more likely to be struck by lightning than be charged with that crime.
What’s so dangerous about this bill is that it’s based on rumors, innuendos, and just plain lies. Public policies should be based on facts and reality. It will allow those legislators who support it to go back to their constituents and tell them they are tough on vote fraud; reinforcing disinformation and distrust in our system. And even more galling, they claim their efforts are in defense of democracy. Give me a break.
An even more troubling aspect of House Bill 1116 is that it represents major backsliding on the issue of felony disenfranchisement in Indiana. One of the few bright spots in Indiana’s otherwise bleakly regressive election laws is the fact that we do not disenfranchise felons upon their release into the community.
That’s the way it should be. When someone is finished serving their sentence, they should be welcomed back into civic life and encouraged to vote. Felony disenfranchisement is not a safety measure and has not been shown to have a deterrent effect on crime; in fact, research suggests that people with strong community connections, like civic participation, are less likely to reoffend.
So, while singling out vote fraud for this add-on punishment might seem like poetic justice to some, it seems more like a political stunt designed to fire up the base to me. And bad public policy is never a good idea, no matter how few people it will impact.
HB1116 is just one of the first ill-conceived election bills to start moving though the legislative process this year. Wesco is full of more ideas to take us backward, including further restrictions on voting by mail in HB1334. He’s joined by several of his House Republican colleagues in his efforts to discredit convenient mail-in voting, including Rep. Mike Aylesworth, R-Hebron, who is calling for a summer study to “determine if voting by mail is as secure as in-person voting.”
This is without one shred of evidence that there is any problem and despite the growing popularity of vote by mail.
Don’t think for a minute that the Indiana Senate is above the fray. This week we’ve started fighting back against the now annual effort to make school board elections partisan races. I have yet to hear a voter suggest this is necessary – but I guess they’re not reading the right playbook.
Julia Vaughn is the Executive Director of Common Cause Indiana. Common Cause is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy. The Washington, D.C.-based group was founded in 1970 and works to create open, honest, and accountable government that serves the public interest; promotes equal rights, opportunity, and representation for all; and empowers all people to make their voices heard in the political process.
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