Election security bill with citizenship, credit agency data provisions moves to House floor

By: - January 18, 2024 7:00 am

Indiana Elections Co-Director Angela Nussmeyer, a Democrat, testifies on an elections bill on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2024. (Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

A House elections committee on Wednesday approved a hotly debated bill some said would ensure election security while others feared it would disenfranchise some eligible voters and rely on potentially inaccurate data.

The committee also passed legislation limiting school levy referenda to general election years.

Indiana Clerks Association President Nicole Brown said bipartisan discussions between the organization’s members — county election officials — had left them at an “impasse” and therefore testified as neutral.

“All 92 county clerks believe and support election security,” said Brown, the Monroe County clerk. But, she added, members had “significant concerns on both sides.”

Tippecanoe County Clerk Julie Roush testifies on an elections bill on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2024. (Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

House Bill 1264 would require people who haven’t previously voted in an Indiana general election to present photo identification and address-verifying mail if they register to vote in person to establish residency. That doesn’t apply if the prospective voter submitted a driver’s license number or the last four digits of their social security number along with their voter application, and election officials successfully matched it the information to state records.

The legislation sets out a process for county voter registration offices to follow if applicants don’t comply with the new proof of residence requirement.

The provision won’t apply to overseas voters and out-of-town members of the military, after a Wednesday committee amendment.

The bill also creates new requirements for proof of citizenship that the state’s top election officials — designated National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) officials — must use to inform counties of non-eligible voters. It similarly sets out a process for counties to follow, which includes an appeals process.

Rachel Van Tyle, the legal services director for Exodus Refugee Immigration, testifies on an elections bill on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2024. (Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

Rachel Van Tyle, the legal services director for Exodus Refugee Immigration, said election officials would quickly rack up appeals without tweaks to that process.

When a legal permanent resident parent gets naturalized into a citizen, their legal permanent resident child automatically derives citizenship, according to Van Tyle.

But obtaining a certificate of citizenship costs more than $1,000 and takes months to process, she said — longer than the bill’s 30-day deadline.

Acquiring a passport also takes weeks because of U.S. State Department delays, as does getting responses to a public information request, Van Tyle added.

She also worried the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles’ (BMV) list of temporary credentials — which NVRA officials would check the statewide voter registration system against — wouldn’t catch legal permanent residents.

“Permanent residents are going to get 10-year driver’s licenses, just like the rest of us that were born in the United States or (are) naturalized US citizens,” Van Tyle said.

Indiana Election Co-Director Angela Nussmeyer, a Democrat, said the BMV’s list may be outdated because it’s a “point-in-time reference” generated when a person obtains a credential.

Bill author Rep. Tim Wesco, R-Osceola, said later that he’d consulted with the agency and knew they could provide the information.

Keegan Prentice, the legislative director for the Secretary of State’s Office, answers lawmaker questions on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2024. (Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

The legislation additionally would require the statewide voter registration system to add a feature identifying voter registrations that use potentially nonresidential addresses — a provision that earned widespread support Wednesday.

What garnered mixed reviews, however, was a provision enabling state election officials to pay for commercially available data and allowing county voter registration offices to use that information in voter list maintenance.

Indiana Secretary of State Legislative Director Keegan Prentice estimated that TrueTrace from Experian — a major credit rating agency — would cost the state $50,000 to $100,000.

Nussmeyer she had “real concerns about using bad data.” She suggested instead using national change-of-address information.

Cass County Clerk Destry Richey, a Republican, said she supported using this new data source because residents frequently don’t tell her office when they’ve moved or otherwise update their voter registration data.

The committee defeated two Democrat amendments to remove the provisions authorizing the use of commercially available data and laying out the proof-of-citizenship process.

It approved the bill 8-4, along party lines.

Wesco told the Capital Chronicle that the bill was still a “work in progress” and that he would make any improvements he could.

Referenda debate

The committee also waded into a debate over when school corporations should be allowed to hold referenda to impose levies that go above the state’s property tax caps.

House Bill 1376 would bar school corporations from popping the question during primary and special elections. They’d be able to hold referenda during general and municipal general election years, although the municipal option doesn’t apply to most of the state’s schools since they’re not wholly contained within one city or town.

Author Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, said Indianapolis Public Schools held an operating referendum worth $400 million in 2022, a primary election year that saw a third of the turnout of a general election.

Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, speaks in a committee meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2024. (Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

“I believe that … we really want the voters to be engaged,” Behning said. “We’re asking as to whether or not they want to pay additional taxes. And to me it would make sense to make sure that we put it in an election cycle that most people participate in.”

He additionally suggested that independent voters may not realize they can still vote in a primary election in Indiana, and may be staying home when there’s a referendum on the ballot.

Opponents argued the bill limits local choice.

“We like the local control, to allow (school corporations) to do it when they feel it’s best for them,” said Terry Spradlin, the executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association.

He said the bill would complicate crisis management — and annual budgeting — by restricting referenda to every two years.

“We’re going to have to play the guessing game (of) whether voters will support our referendum and how we shape our annual budget,” Spradlin said. “… That is not a good way of developing a sound, fiscally prudent budget annually.”

Multiple Democrats suggested instead requiring clearer language in referendum questions so that Hoosiers fully understand what’s on the ballot.

While Behning said referendum pass rates appeared stable across election year types, other lawmakers were more skeptical.

Need to get in touch?

Have a news tip?

“I’ll say the quiet part out loud,” said Rep. Alan Morrison, R-Brazil. “The reason why certain groups don’t want to see this (bill) move is because there will be more people voting on it and it’s a heck of a lot easier to to get a contentious referendum passed when you have fewer people to (convince).”

The committee passed the bill 8-5. Three Democrats and Rep. Jim Pressel, R-Rolling Prairie, voted against. Pressel noted that Hoosiers “have an opportunity to show up whichever (election) it may be.”

GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our website. AP and Getty images may not be republished. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of any other photos and graphics.

Leslie Bonilla Muñiz
Leslie Bonilla Muñiz

Leslie covers state government for the Indiana Capital Chronicle with emphases on elections, infrastructure and transportation. She previously covered city-county government for the Indianapolis Business Journal. She has also reported on local, national and international news for the Chicago Tribune, Voice of America and more. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

Indiana Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

MORE FROM AUTHOR