File-Indiana voters

Former WNBA player Tamika Catchings directs voters as she works as a clerk during voting at a poling place inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, on Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. 

(The Center Square) – An Indiana Senate bill that would have required proof of citizenship to register to vote was changed at the last minute after the Secretary of State’s office said making people prove they are citizens is “unconstitutional,” the bill’s author said.

Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, said her bill had to be completely changed after a conversation with the Indiana Secretary of State’s office.

The office said the proof-of-citizenship provision was “unconstitutional,” said Houchin, and said the other provision in the bill, which would have required risk-limiting audits after every election, wasn’t something Secretary of State Connie Lawson’s office said they were ready to comply with.

The bill, SB 353, which lists Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, as a co-sponsor, would have required people wanting to register to vote in Indiana submit one of the following to prove they are American citizens: a birth certificate, certificate of naturalization, certificate of citizenship, a Report of Birth Abroad of a U.S. Citizen, or an unexpired U.S. passport.

“It’s certainly urgently needed because the Democrats have been on a very aggressive campaign to open up voting to ineligible and illegal voters and have fought every effort not only to verify eligibility but even to verify identity,” Terre Haute-based elections lawyer Jim Bopp said on Friday.

If the bill had passed as written and been enacted, Indiana would have been the first state in the country to require proof of citizenship to register to vote.

Arizona previously required proof of citizenship, but after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2013, the state had to create a two-track system, with proof of citizenship required only for local and state elections, but not federal elections.

The Supreme Court, says Bopp, did not say requiring proof of citizenship to vote was unconstitutional.

“That had to do with a form that HAVA (the Help America Vote Act) requires and whether or not the form could be amended by the state to require proof of citizenship,” he said on Friday. “This bill isn’t talking about the form. This is just establishing an administrative procedure to ensure that the person verifies their U.S. citizenship in order to vote.”

Alabama and Kansas have passed laws requiring proof of citizenship to vote, but have not implemented them.

Every state requires people to be U.S. citizens to register to vote and it is a felony for a noncitizen to vote in a U.S. election. But the voter registration system is essentially an “honor system,” according to a report from the Indianapolis-based Public Interest Legal Foundation.

The foundation recently investigated voting by noncitizens in Virginia and in May of 2017 released a report that showed that 5,500 noncitizens had been removed from voter rolls in the state. The noncitizens had cast almost 7,500 ballots in elections dating back to 1988. In almost all cases, they had been removed from the rolls at their own request, in most cases because they were applying for U.S. citizenship and if shown to have voted illegally, or to be registered to vote, would have had their citizenship applications denied.

It is unknown how many noncitizens, if any, may be on the voter rolls in Indiana.

“We only find out when there’s an investigation. So how many investigations have there been?” said Bopp when asked about Indiana’s voter roll.

Five percent of Indiana residents are immigrants, according to the American Immigration Council – about 354,000 people. An estimated 30% are from Mexico, 9% from India and 7% from China. About 41% of immigrants in the state are naturalized U.S. citizens and able to vote legally, while more than 200,000 are noncitizens and are not able to vote legally.

Lawson's office did not return calls seeking comment and information.