A House committee approved a vastly amended election bill Thursday, but the sticking point was a matter not proposed in the original bill: redistricting.

Based on committee amendments, the bill now only requires voters to type in the ID number on file with their election office when applying for an absentee vote by mail ballot online. Voters who apply for an absentee vote by mail application on paper will still follow signature match procedures.

The original bill called for voters to write in their driver’s license number or last four digits of their Social Security number — whichever was on file with their respective election office — on their application for an absentee vote by mail ballot.

Typically, election office staff write in a voter’s driver’s license or last four digits of a Social Security number on the absentee ballot application. During testimony Tuesday, 10 election experts testified against this element of the bill arguing that many voters who vote absentee by mail are older and likely won’t know which number they used to register to vote.

Additionally, the original bill wouldn’t allow the Indiana Election Commission to expand vote by mail options, and prevents the commission or the governor from changing the election date during emergencies.

On Thursday, before the House Elections and Apportionment Committee, Rep. Tonya Pfaff, D-Terre Haute, proposed an amendment that differentiates between online and mail absentee vote by mail applications.

Under the amendment, voters who apply online have to type in their driver’s license number or last four digits of their Social Security number. Voters who fill out their ballot application on paper would have to meet the criteria of a signature match.

What the amendment does, said Lake County Election and Voter Registration Board Director Michelle Fajman, is solidify into law what was done during the 2020 general election — following some fallout during the 2020 primary.

During the 2020 primary, bill author Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, said Tuesday during a committee hearing that she was contacted by a constituent who said a family member wanted to apply for an absentee vote by mail ballot online but was told they had already voted.

When she looked into it, Houchin said, the online application did not require the voter to put in any information that wasn’t publicly available. So, Houchin said she reached out to the secretary of state’s office, and for the 2020 general election voters were required to put in their driver’s license number or Social Security number, whichever they used to register, when filing out an online application.

Fajman said she has no problem with a voter having to type in the ID number they registered with when applying online because it is a “good way as a second validation” and the system prompts the voter if they enter the wrong number.

For example, Fajman testified as the original bill was being considered Tuesday and shared the story of her daughter, who applied online for an absentee vote by mail ballot. Her daughter had her driver’s license nearby assuming that’s what she used to registered to vote, Fajman said, but after typing in the 10-digit number, the system prompted her asking for the last four numbers of her Social Security number.

“It makes it easier for us to put this into law,” Fajman said. “I’m very happy with the changes.”

Rep. Timothy Wesco, R-Osceola, committee chairman, said he supported the amendment because “it would make it more difficult for someone to request an absentee ballot for another person without their consent because they would have to have that personal information to do so.”

The amendment passed with unanimous support.

Another amendment proposed to the bill removed the sections of the original bill that prevented the commission from expanding absentee vote by mail options and prohibits the commission or the governor from changing the election date during emergencies.

The amendment, Wesco said, “essentially this leaves Pfaff’s amendment as the bill.”

Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, urged the committee to vote in favor of the amendment because without it “there’s really no mechanism, short of a legislature passing a new law, to deal with what could be a very tight emergency situation.”

“Otherwise, getting the legislature into session in those circumstances and then voting through legislation is just going to be too long,” Pierce said.

Rep. Ethan Manning, R-Denver, said he wouldn’t support the amendment because he believes “it is proper for the legislature to choose the time, date, manner of elections.”

“While I understand there are emergencies, I still think it’s important for the legislature to be the primary driver of those policies,” Manning said.

The amendment passed 8-3.

Pierce stated he wouldn’t support the bill without an amendment to address redistricting. He proposed an amendment, which wasn’t voted on by the committee because it was ruled out of order, to institute a nonpartisan redistricting method.

Under the method, Pierce said, the Indiana Legislative Services Agency would have a map with city and county boundaries and draw the new district maps. But, the agency would “be forbidden to use any political data when they do it,” he said.

The legislature would vote on a map proposal, and if there were objections to the way the districts were drawn then the LSA would consider those objections and redraw the map up to three times, Pierce said.

If, by the third map, the House and Senate members don’t approve of the map then they can change the map “in any way they would like,” Pierce said.

Pierce voted against the bill because he’s “not interested in continually fixing and tinkering with the code and ignoring bigger reforms,” he said.

Ultimately, the bill passed 7-4. The bill moves on for consideration by the whole House.
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