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House committee votes down no-excuse absentee voting amendment

A House committee on Monday voted down an attempt to amend an omnibus elections bill to allow no-excuse absentee voting in Indiana.

The amendment, proposed by Rep. Tonya Pfaff, D-Terre Haute, would have allowed Indiana to join other states that allow vote-by-mail, also known as no-excuse absentee voting. After urging by the chairs of the Indiana Republican and Democratic parties in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, state election officials allowed the practice in the June 2020 primary but not in the November general election. Indiana was in a small minority of states not to allow no-excuse absentee voting in November.

Pfaff noted that the state’s voter turnout in the general election, reported at about 65 percent, is expected to continue to rank Indiana among the lowest for voter turnout in the nation.

Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie, speaking in support of the amendment, said that as someone over 65, she automatically qualifies for no-excuse absentee voting, and urged that all Hoosier voters be allowed to do so.

After brief debate, the House Elections and Apportionment Committee voted down the amendment 9-4, with all Republicans including Committee Chair Tim Wesco, R-Osceola, voting against. In casting his vote, Wesco noted that Indiana’s voter turnout in the 2020 general election was its highest since 1992.

A separate bill, HB 1133 , authored by Rep. Patricia Boy, D-Michigan City,  would require that all elections be conducted by mail beginning in 2024. The bill has been assigned to Wesco’s committee but has not been scheduled for a hearing.

Pfaff’s amendment was one of several that House Democrats on the committee proposed Monday on House Bill 1365, a 61-page document that makes mostly technical changes in Indiana election law.

Also among the proposed amendments that were defeated on party-line votes was one from Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, under which Indiana would have joined the  National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an agreement among a group of U.S. states and the District of Columbia to award all their electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the overall popular vote in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The compact has been adopted by 15 states and the District of Columbia.

Also in Monday’s meeting, the committee unanimously passed HB 1479, authored by Wesco, which would allow Indiana counties to establish a satellite office to permit voters to cast absentee ballots for at least four hours on the third Saturday preceding election day. The bill is now eligible for consideration by the full House. — The Indiana Citizen