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Under a bill amended and approved Wednesday by the Indiana House Elections and Apportionment Committee, absentee voters would be required to submit their driver’s license number as well as another identifier.

Rep. Timothy Wesco (above, left), R-Osceola, presents his amended absentee voter bill to the House Elections and Apportionment Committee. The bill passed with a vote of 9-4.

Originally, House Bill 1334 had much tighter restrictions, requiring that Hoosiers applying for an absentee ballot guarantee that they would be unable to vote on Election Day as well as the 28 days beforehand. It also required that applicants include the last four digits of their Social Security number and their driver’s license number or voter ID number.

The bill’s author, committee chair Rep. Timothy Wesco, R-Osceola, proposed an amended version in the Wednesday morning meeting, loosening these restrictions.

Instead of requiring both a driver’s license number and the four digits of one’s Social Security number, the amendment would allow the applicant instead to include just a photocopy of their driver’s license.

Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis, argued that this still would make absentee voting more difficult for people.

“We’re making it harder for people to vote absentee by requiring two identifiers versus if a person goes to the poll and votes,” Pryor said. “You only have to show your ID [at the poll].”

Wesco instead believes it would encourage more voters by promoting security.

“I feel that we’re attempting to provide a better service to the voter, and I think this encourages absentee voting because it encourages voters [by] knowing that it’s secure,” Wesco said. “It’s validated. It’s a safe process to vote absentee by mail.”

In addition to the identification, the amended bill would not allow government agencies to send out unsolicited absentee ballot applications, providing that applications could be received only if they were requested. If a non-governmental group wanted to send one out, it would have to mention on the application who it was from.

St. Joseph County Clerk Amy Rolfes testified in support of the bill, saying it would help to secure ballots and eliminate voter fraud.

“Sadly, St. Joseph County has a history of voter fraud, particularly as it relates to forged signatures. In 2013, a county party chairman was convicted of felony conspiracy to commit forgery and was sentenced to prison,” she said. “While his conviction was related specifically to petition signatures, it has left lingering questions in many minds of our community.”

Others testifying said that they were strongly opposed to the original bill prior to reading Wesco’s amendment.

Co-President Linda Hanson of the League of Women Voters of Indiana said she still has concerns about accessibility under the amended bill.

She said many applicants including the elderly or those without a driver’s license may struggle to provide the correct identifiers.

“I do have concerns that are mentioned about the kind of ID that is required. You’re giving options on absentee ballot applications, but we won’t know immediately how many people this is impacted,” Hanson said. “We need to know whether we are actually disenfranchising people by putting these additional restrictions on the absentee ballot application.”

Julia Vaughn with Common Cause Indiana said Wesco is worried about a problem that does not exist in the state.

“There is simply no reason to create additional burdens for clerks and voters when there is no real problem here. So I would ask you to not take us backward,” Vaughn said, “to not make an already restrictive statute even more restrictive. This bill simply isn’t necessary. It is going to cause problems for voters now.

“You’ve got a solution here in search of a problem, and I wish you would just abandon these efforts.”

The amended bill passed along party lines, 9-4.

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

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