File-Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb delivers state of the state address

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb delivers his State of the State address virtually, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

(The Center Square) – A bill passed out of an Indiana Senate committee this week says neither the governor nor the Indiana Election Commission can change the “time, place or manner” of an election and both are prohibited from expanding absentee voting and vote-by-mail.

“We wanted to make sure what happened in Pennsylvania couldn’t happen here,” says Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, who authored the bill, referring to the Pennsylvania secretary of state instructing some counties to allow “ballot-curing” – contacting voters to come in and fill in missing information.

“My intent in filing the bill is to ensure the integrity of our elections,” said Houchin.

The bill, SB 353, originally would have required proof of citizenship to vote and would have also required counties do risk-limiting audits after every election before certifying results.

Houchin said both provisions were taken out after a conversation with Secretary of State Connie Lawson’s office, which said it believed requiring proof of citizenship is “unconstitutional” and that it would be unable to comply with the provision requiring risk-limited audits.

But the bill as it passed the committee is still the boldest election reform bill to move through the Indiana General Assembly this year, and the only one Republicans appear interested in passing.

Houchin's bill also says a driver’s license number or the last four digits of a Social Security number must be provided when requesting an absentee ballot and prohibits clerks from accepting absentee ballot applications with this information pre-printed on them.

The bill, which was co-authored by Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, was heard before the Indiana Senate Elections Committee, with Houchin defending the provision related to vote-by-mail.

“Overwhelmingly, my constituents support voting in person, as the way to safeguard the election in a more secure way,” she told committee members.

In a series of tweets on Monday, Attorney General Todd Rokita expressed support for the bill, and the need for it.

“It is perfectly reasonable that many citizens in Indiana, and across the nation, have valid concerns regarding the conduct of the 2020 Presidential election,” he wrote in the first tweet. “Deeply rooted in these concerns is the fact that several left-leaning states conducted their elections without regard for the U.S. Constitution. We’ll never know the full extent to which these states’ actions impacted the 2020 Presidential election,” he said in the second.

In his last two tweets in the thread, he said he would fight against making “temporary” procedures used last year permanent and would also fight to protect “the Constitution’s requirement that the power to change the state’s election laws lies with state legislatures—not unelected bureaucrats, biased judges, or executive branch officials.”

Under Indiana law, there are 11 reasons a person can give for needing to vote absentee, including: being absent from the county on Election Day; having a disability; being at least 65 years of age; having election duties outside of his or her voting precinct; having to work at a job the entire 12 hours that polls are open; being confined due to illness or injury or caring for someone who is; being prevented from voting in-person because of a religious discipline or holiday; being in the state’s address confidentiality program; being a member of the military or a public safety officer; being a “serious sex offender” and; lastly, not having transportation to the polls.

Indiana’s primary election date in 2020 was moved back one month, from May to June, by order of Gov. Eric Holcomb.

The four-member Indiana Election Commission decreed that anyone could vote absentee in that election, though state law requires that one of the above 11 reasons be given.

If Houchin's bill passed, neither would have been allowed without the Indiana legislature acting.

The bill passed out of committee on a 7-2 party-line vote, and is expected to be taken up by the full Senate next week.