Indiana election laws badly in need of major update

(Terre Haute) Tribune-Star

In 1913, cocaine was still legal in Indiana and in the U.S. America’s first gas station opened. The Constitution did not yet allow women the right to vote.

And, Indiana adopted a law requiring residents (all men, at the time) to register with the state 29 days before any election to vote. The 29-days-before deadline was maintained in a 1925 revision of the law.

Indiana maintains that law. (It includes women voters now, thanks to Congress’ passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.) Its original utility may have been to allow counties time to create voter lists for poll books. Much has changed since then, obviously. The state’s voting guidelines should move into the 21st century, too.

Newly elected state Rep. Tonya Pfaff of Terre Haute filed House Bill 1256 last week to update two Indiana voting statues, much like other states did years ago. Her proposed legislation would extend the state’s polling hours on Election Day to 8 p.m. Currently, polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. That time window limits the chances of Election Day voting for many Hoosiers have work and child daycare commitments.

Pfaff’s bill also would create same-day voter registration, eliminating the 29-days-before relic.

That early deadline probably more negatively affects voter turnout than any other Indiana voting statute, Michael McDonald — who oversees the United States Election Project, said in a 2014 interview with the Tribune-Star. Most people do not begin paying close attention to political races until one month before an election. Potential voters most likely left out by the 29-day deadline are people who have never registered before and those who have recently moved, McDonald said. In both cases, those folks tend to be low-income and young people.

Instead, Pfaff’s proposal would allow residents on Election Day or at early voting to complete a registration form, affirm they have not already voted in that year’s election and provide proof of residence. That proof could include a photo ID (already mandated for voting by the Legislature in 2006), a current utility bill, check or government document with the applicant’s name and address.

Indiana’s weak voter turnouts make Pfaff’s bills particularly necessary.

“In the 16 states that have already adopted same-day voter registration, turnout increases,” Pfaff said. “It is time for Indiana to join them.”

Pfaff’s effort follows those of other Democratic legislators in the past, most notably her predecessor, retired Rep. Clyde Kersey of Terre Haute. Kersey scored a small victory in recent years, when the Republican super-majority allowed a watered-down version of his motor-voter registration bill to pass.

Pfaff’s current bill, as it’s written, is similar to several Kersey and others filed previously. Like those, hers deserves passage, moving the state from 1913 into 2019.

Send comments to [email protected].