Common Cause Indiana discusses election bills at the halfway point of session

Common Cause Indiana held a webinar Thursday night to discuss legislation at the halfway point of the Indiana General Assembly’s 2023 session, focusing on bills that could affect the voting rights of Hoosiers.

The panel included speakers from Common Cause Indiana, the League of Women Voters of Indiana, and Indiana Vote by Mail.

The webinar started with a discussion of House Bill 1116 authored by Rep. Timothy Wesco, R-Osceola. The executive director of Common Cause Indiana, Julia Vaughn, said one of the problems with the bill is an amendment to extend the deadline for local governments such as Gary’s that missed last year’s deadline for local redistricting.

Vaughn continued, saying the most disturbing provision of the bill would give the Secretary of State’s office responsibility for redistricting if a local body that has responsibility for redistricting does not take action.

“We think it’s very bad practice to have a statewide  partisan elected official in charge of local redistricting,” Vaughn said.

The last issue Vaughn mentioned with Wesco’s HB 1116 was its provision for disenfranchisement of anyone convicted of felony voter fraud.

“Now, let’s be clear, the impact of this would be very small, because almost no one in Indiana is convicted of felony voter fraud,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn added the law would prescribe a 10- year post conviction period for anyone convicted of felony voter fraud in which they would not be able to register or vote.

“One of the very few bright spots in our election law is the fact that we do not permanently disenfranchise convicted felons. We don’t disenfranchise people for any amount of time, post release. So we object to this language in House Bill 1116 because it’s major backsliding, on the issue of disenfranchisement,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn added there is no evidence that the legislation would have any kind of positive effect nor stop anybody from committing a crime that is already “extremely rare.”

“Once they fulfilled their sentence they come back into the community. We think that people should be encouraged to participate in elections, to be civically engaged, so disenfranchisement is a bad idea across the board, and again, House Bill 1116, takes Indiana backwards,” Vaughn said.

Next to speak was  Linda Hanson, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Indiana. Hanson mentioned Senate Bill 188, and House Bill 1428, saying these bills would create partisan school boards. Neither of the bills survived the first half of the 2023 session.

“The idea of partisan school boards itself is a real concern, because our school board members should be elected on their qualifications, their merits…no matter their political party affiliation, because their primary task is to work for all children, not partisan, or select groups,” Hanson said.

The next person to speak was the president of Indiana Vote by Mail, Barbara Tully, who expressed concern about House Bill 1334, also authored by Wesco.

Tully said that HB 1334 was “very different” from its introduced version, saying the introduced version had a provision that would limit absentee balloting “even further.”

She said Wesco, chairman of the House Elections Committee, hates mail-in voting and tried unsuccessfully to pass similar limits on it last session.

“It creates a number of different pitfalls, and because Indiana’s vote by mail law is very restrictive, 66% of the people utilizing it are senior citizens or people with disabilities,’’ Vaughn added. “They’re the folks who are least able to jump over these additional hurdles that the state is setting up for them.’’

Xain Ballenger is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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