The Indiana House approved along party lines Monday a Republican-backed proposal that would require voters who request mail-in ballots to swear under possible penalty of perjury that they won’t be able to vote in person at any time during the 28 days before Election Day.
House members voted 66-28 in favor of the bill that supporters maintain is aimed at encouraging people to cast ballots in person during Indiana's early voting period. Democrats and voting rights activists argue it would discourage people from selecting their most convenient way of voting , citing hourslong lines early voting sites in Indianapolis during the 2020 election.
The proposal now goes to the Republican-dominated state Senate for consideration and comes as some GOP-controlled states have restricted voting by mail and made other changes such as limiting when voters can cast ballots.
Bill sponsor Republican Rep. Tim Wesco of Osceola defended the proposal as an updating of the state’s mail-in ballot law to reflect the greater availability of early in-person voting over the past couple decades.
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“This bill encourages people to vote in person with a state ID as much as possible by taking advantage of the 28-day early voting period,” Wesco said.
Indiana’s current mail-in voting limits allow people to vote by mail only if they fall into one of several categories, including being 65 or older, confined to their homes, scheduled to work throughout the 12 hours Election Day polling sites are open or being absent from their home counties on Election Day.
The new proposal would extend those limitations to the state’s early voting period, with the request form requiring voters to swear they meet the requirements and acknowledge that “perjury is punishable by imprisonment for up to 2-1/2 years, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.”
Wesco downplayed concerns over the perjury penalty during a committee hearing, calling the mail-in voter request “an honor system.”
Democrats argued that Indiana’s 92 counties vary widely on what evening or weekend hours are available for early voting and how many sites are open. They said the new limitations would wrongly put the responsibility on voters to know weeks ahead of time what their work and family schedules are and would discourage voter participation.
“For so many reasons, our hard-working families might not be able to say definitively they can’t show up,” Democratic Rep. Carey Hamilton of Indianapolis said. “They’re not willing to potentially perjure themselves.”
Election officials and many political campaigns encouraged mail-in voting in 2020 because of COVID-19 concerns.
That pushed mail-in balloting to nearly 600,000, along with some 1.3 million in-person early votes cast, according to the state election division. Mail-in voting jumped about 3-1/2 times from 150,000 ballots in 2016, when almost 1 million people cast early in-person votes.
Republican House Speaker Todd Huston disputed the argument that the proposed changes would discourage voting and cited the extended voting hours available in his district in Hamilton County, the state’s most affluent county just north of Indianapolis.
“I was much more sympathetic of life getting in the way when it was Election Day,” Huston said. “I’m a little less sympathetic of life getting in the way when its election month and that’s what it is.”