Voter Suppression in Indiana

In another rant dealing with my ongoing dislike for Mitch Daniels and his ideas of governance for the people of Indiana, I just have to shake my head at this one.

Governor Daniels has vetoed a bill, just passed by both houses of the legislature, that would have made the process of voting an easier task. And guess what excuse he used? That’s right, fear of voter fraud.

Of course, that is complete and total b.s. The real reason is to try to keep voters, particularly working men and women, away from the polls in this increasingly blue state.

Indiana already has, probably, the most restrictive anti-voting laws in the nation, by virtue of its voter identification provisions, signed into law by Daniels during his first term.

The bill recently vetoed by Daniels would have allowed easier access to the polling places by allowing counties to centralize voter rolls, as well as to open more early voting polling places to ease the burden on working people to get to the polls on election day.

As an example, in St. Joseph County, voters are assigned to one of 230 precincts, and they must cast ballots at their particularly assigned location. Under the so-called “vote center” plan, the county would have 70 precincts, and county residents could vote at any polling place, since names would be stored in an electronic book to ensure no one could vote twice.

The bill would also have eased the burden of opening early voting sites, greatly adding to the convenience of casting a ballot. In many locations last year, early voters had to wait in line for thirty minutes or more, and early voting was instituted to make it easier to vote. Even in counties where multiple sites were available, the wait could be a half hour or more.

Lake County, a heavily Democrat stronghold, and Indiana’s second most populous county, for instance, was only alloted one early voting site, in spite of lines that forced many to wait over an hour. This was because the law would only allow satellite locations if the county election board voted unanimously for that to happen. Lake County’s election board in 2008 voted 3-2 in favor, along party lines, so two Republicans kept a roadblock in place that inconvenienced voters at the least, and may have kept some voters from the polling places entirely, due to time and travel restraints. The law vetoed by Daniels would have allowed majority rule from the election board to be applied when deciding how many satellite sites might be needed, and where they should be located.

Daniels said in his veto statement: “While this bill contains provisions that would make the act of voting more convenient, it does not contain sufficient safeguards against fraud and abuse and removes long-standing bipartisan checks and balances in the conduct of elections.”

This answer, of course, is pure hogwash. Election law expert Bill Groth stated in response to the governor’s claim: “This is really infuriating. Even after signing into law the nation’s most restrictive voter ID bill, the Governor thinks we still don’t have enough protections against fraud. That’s just an excuse to veto a bill that broadened access by voters. SB 209 was a carefully crafted bipartisan compromise. I hope the Legislature will override this outrageous and irresponsible veto in the special session or at least on organization day in November.”

If Daniels is so concerned about bipartisan checks and balances, he might take note that the Indiana Senate passed the measure 48-0. That means not one Republican senator viewed this bill negatively, in a chamber where there are 33 Republicans to only 17 Democrats. The House passed it 55-43, this despite the fact that there is a near 50-50 split in party affiliation.

His concerns about voter fraud are spurious. Not only does Indiana have an ID law in place, but as the South Bend Tribune noted in an editorial on the matter: “Even the Republican Secretary of State, Todd Rokita, spoke out against the veto, even though he had to do so on economic grounds, not on the basis of enfranchisement:
‘How ironic it is that the one local government reform that actually passes the legislature ends up getting vetoed. Vote Centers is perhaps the only local government reform that so far has been proven unequivocally to save taxpayers money. I would expect, given the serious fiscal condition of the state, that the concept is important enough to find its way into the budget bill so that all 92 counties be given the opportunity to realize the unquestionable taxpayer benefits and savings.’”

The fact is that there is no good reason for this bill to have been vetoed. And there is even less reason for the legislature to uphold this veto.

As long as Indiana law requires unanimous consent of the boards of election, any individual on a board can veto opening an election center. It actually happened in Muncie last year when one Republican blocked a voting center on the Ball State University campus because he feared that “college students’ votes can be bought with free hot dogs.” Seriously.

I am hoping this can be overridden at the special session in June. We cannot allow the un-American practice of voter suppression to be continued by the actions of an oligarch like Mitch Daniels who rules only by whim and edict. The people of Indiana are better than that, and deserve to be treated accordingly.