Indiana Secretary of State Diego Morales testified about voter registration before a congressional committee. (Photo/

By Marilyn Odendahl

The Indiana Citizen

June 7, 2024

Indiana Secretary of State Diego Morales testified before a congressional committee Tuesday, saying the administration of elections in the Hoosier State is the responsibility of his office and he would not welcome federal involvement.

“I believe we, the states, know better how to run our elections than the federal government,” Morales told the members of the House Committee on Small Business.

The Republican-led committee called the hearing to examine a memorandum of understanding between the Small Business Administration and the Michigan Department of State. In March, the SBA announced the agreement, saying it would promote civic engagement and voter registration in the Wolverine State.

However, the Republican committee members assailed the MOU during the hearing. They said the SBA was neglecting its duty to help small businesses and accused the Biden administration of electioneering. Three of the witnesses – Morales; Elaine Parker, president of the Job Creators Network Foundation; and Stewart Whitson, senior director of federal affairs for the Foundation for Government Accountability – supported the GOP committee members’ view.

The fourth witness – Lisa Danetz, adviser at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law – defended the memorandum. She said the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 requires states to designate state offices and agencies to serve as voter registration agencies. Also, the NVRA permits the states to designate federal offices for voter registration.

In Michigan, the state designated the Small Business Administration as a voter registration agency, Danetz said. This enables the SBA offices in the state to provide Michiganders, who are using the agency’s services, with the opportunity to register to vote.

“Public agency voter registration is a broadly accepted, widely used, nonpartisan model that makes voter registration opportunities accessible to the American public,” Danetz told the committee in her opening testimony. “Through its agreement to designation, SBA is adopting that model for the benefit of its constituency.”

Republicans were suspicious of the SBA’s intent. Pointing out Michigan is a battleground state expected to be key in determining the outcome of the 2024 presidential election, several GOP members of the committee alleged the SBA was using taxpayer money to go into the swing state to shore up President Joe Biden’s reelection chances by registering individuals who will likely vote Democratic.

“The SBA is tasked with aiding, counseling, and protecting the interests of small businesses across our great nation,” committee chair Roger Williams, R-Texas, said in his opening statement. “Instead of fulfilling these goals, the SBA has entangled itself in electioneering activities that not only lack a constitutional basis, but also betray the trust and purpose for which the agency was established.”

Few Hoosiers have been voting

Morales was invited to appear before the committee, although who invited him and why is not clear. He was the only secretary of state called as a witness and, as he noted, Indiana does not have – nor has been asked to enter into – an MOU with the Small Business Administration.

The Indiana Secretary of State’s office said Morales hoped that through his testimony, the committee would “realize the SBA should be focused on its core mission of delivering services to small businesses and not getting involved in elections.”

In his written testimony submitted to the committee, Morales touted the voter registration work he said the Secretary of State’s office has undertaken since he was elected in 2022. In particular, he said, the office has developed an enhanced, self-service voter registration website; funded a campaign targeting unregistered Hoosiers, Hoosiers turning 18 and underrepresented minority and ethnic citizen groups; hosted voter registration tents and tables at communities events; and sponsored public service ads promoting voter registration.

“I’ll put modesty aside to say: no Secretary of State in the history of Indiana has done more to promote voter registration and actually register votes than I and my office,” Morales told the committee members. “In fidelity to specific state and federal authorizations, namely state statute, the National Voter Registration Act and Help America Vote Act, and utilizing specifically designated state and federal funding for voter registration, education, and outreach, we have continuously blanketed the state with voter registration activity since I took office.”

Julia Vaughn, executive director of Common Cause Indiana, was critical of the secretary of state’s decision to travel to Washington, D.C., for the hearing. Vaughn was not at the committee hearing and did not provide any testimony or material to the committee but she said Morales should focus on improving Indiana’s voter turnout rate.

“The most recent Indiana Civic Health Index shows Indiana as next to last in voter turnout and in the bottom 10 for voter registration,” Vaughn said in an emailed statement. “This news should set off alarm bells in Secretary Morales’ office and prompt him to ramp up his efforts to improve civic participation in Indiana.  What he shouldn’t be wasting time on is flying to Washington, D.C., to fill a partisan role in criticizing another state’s effort to register voters.  With Indiana’s civic health on life support, he should have better things to do.”

In 2022, Indiana ranked 50th in voter turnout with just 41.9% of eligible Hoosiers voting in the midterm elections. For the May 2024 primary, only 17% of registered Indiana voters cast a ballot.

Morales: No SBA help wanted for elections

Morales reiterated several times during the hearing that while he would work with the SBA on matters related to businesses, he would not enter into any agreement like the one signed by Michigan.

The Indiana Secretary of State’s office includes the business services division, which, Morales said, registers and certifies entities doing business in Indiana and has recently launched the “Right to Start” program to support start-up businesses. He said he would be glad to work with the SBA to help small-business owners in Indiana, but he would not want the federal agency to be involved in registering Hoosiers to vote.

“I will be glad to work with the SBA when it comes to helping small-business owners in Indiana, but when it comes to elections, that’s … my role in my election division under the secretary of state’s office,” Morales said, adding the secretary of state has the responsibility to register eligible Hoosiers to vote.

Danetz, of the Brennan Center, told the committee that the elections clause in the Constitution does recognize states as having the authority to regulate federal elections, but the provision also gives Congress the power to make new election rules or alter state laws. Congress used that power, she said, in the National Voter Registration Act to authorize federal agencies to serve as voter registration agencies.

“There’s nothing unconstitutional about it,” Danetz said.

Armed forces recruiting centers have been designated as voter registration agencies since 1996, Danetz said. Also, in 2008, the Veterans Health Administration, under President George W. Bush, issued a directive that essentially required their residential facilities to provide access to voter registration for their patients, she added.

Moreover, Danetz said, the National Voter Registration Act prohibits the designated agency staff from trying to influence a registrant’s political preference or party affiliation, or attempting to discourage the individual from registering to vote.

Rep. Greg Landsman, D-Ohio, underscored the nonpartisan nature of voter registration by reviewing a voter registration form from his home state. The congressman noted the form did not ask about party affiliation or about for whom the registrant intends to vote.

“I’m assuming that’s true in Indiana,” Landsman said to Morales. “You don’t ask people who they’re voting for. You just register them to vote.”

Morales agreed. “When I go to schools, when I go to communities, I ask them to register to vote and I’m very clear as I ask them, ‘I’m not here to tell you who to vote for. Not my job. My job is to register you to vote.”

Dwight Adams, a freelance editor and writer based in Indianapolis, edited this article. He is a former content editor, copy editor and digital producer at The Indianapolis Star and, and worked as a planner for other newspapers, including the Louisville Courier Journal.

The Indiana Citizen is a nonpartisan, nonprofit platform dedicated to increasing the number of informed and engaged Hoosier citizens. We are operated by the Indiana Citizen Education Foundation, Inc., a 501(c)(3) public charity. For questions about the story, contact Marilyn Odendahl at

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