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Monday, June 14, 2021

Standing up for democracy and against voter suppression

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Last year more than two dozen states fought to expand mail-in voting to make it easier and safer for people to vote during a global pandemic — Indiana wasn’t one of them.

While a record 3 million people across Indiana cast their ballots for the Nov. 3 election that’s still just 65% of the state’s 4.7 million voters. In fact, Indiana is one of five states, including Texas and Louisiana, that pushed against public pressure to allow all registered voters to cast a ballot by mail. Out of those votes, how many cases of confirmed voter fraud were found?

According to the Heritage Foundation, none in the 2020 election

Yet, Indiana made history in 2005 by being the first state to enact a strict photo ID law at polling places, which was upheld two years later by the U.S. Supreme Court. Now, as a pushback against efforts to expand vote by mail during the 2020 election, lawmakers in the supermajority are spearheading SB 353, an effective ban on expanding Indiana’s vote by mail or absentee voting, and prohibits the governor or the bi-partisan Indiana Election Commission from altering any part of an election in response to a disaster emergency. Lawmakers also pushed bills that purge voter rolls (HB 1365) and problematically alter the way straight ticket votes are counted (HB 1357). 

The attempts to make voting more accessible in Indiana and across the country are being thwarted by radical state legislators. 

Even major corporations are speaking out against voter suppression efforts. 

Eli Lilly testified against a voter suppression bill this week: “Our belief is that we should do everything in our power as a Hoosier-based company to make it easier for people to exercise that fundamental right to be heard and we will work against any effort that makes exercising that right more difficult,” said Stephen Fry, vice president for human resources at Eli Lilly.

Fry went on to call SB 353 “a solution in search of a problem […] and serves only to confer acceptance of a widespread falsehood that there is something to be questioned about the outcome of last year’s election.”

Planned Parenthood also opposes SB 353. Requiring voters to list their driver’s license or last four digits of their Social Security number on an absentee ballot application, which may or may not be on record with the election office, will create a barrier because not all voters remember which number they used to register. 

In the first three months of 2021 alone, over 361 voter suppression bills have been introduced in 47 states, including several in Indiana.

Make no mistake, these are obvious and shameless attempts by Indiana politicians to limit voting rights — particularly for voters of color — in order to maintain their power over the lives, bodies, and futures of the people of Indiana. 

The Indiana Black Legislative Caucus is speaking out against these bills, emphasizing how we continue to see politicians use bills like these to suppress the vote and manipulate the outcome of elections.

Indiana Democratic House members who have proposed bills or amendments to increase voter turnout this legislative session have been shut down by the Republican supermajority. Lake County Democratic Party Chairman James Wieser says the demographics of the U.S. are shifting and without strict voter suppression laws, Republicans in Indiana can’t win. 

An article in the Chicago Tribune laid out the efforts by representative Vernon Smith, D-Gary, who drafted a bill to allow for same-day voter registration, allowing people to register to vote on election day and then cast their ballot. Rep. Tonya Pfaff, D-Terre Haute, proposed an amendment to a various election matters bill that would have allowed voters to cast an absentee ballot without an excuse. Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis, proposed an amendment to an election bill that would add a voting location for every 5,000 active voters in counties that have at least 25,000 active voters. Current state law requires a voting center for every 10,000 active voters.

All these efforts to increase access have all failed. 

Every person, no matter where they are in Indiana, deserves the same access to services. That includes access to the post office. Access to health care. Access to the internet. And most importantly, access to democracy.

We know the fight for autonomy, reproductive freedom, and climate justice will only be won with the complete participation of everyone, especially historically disenfranchised communities.

Planned Parenthood stands with the organizations on the ground fighting back against this heinous law and will continue to fiercely advocate for voting rights and democracy reform. 

LaKimba DeSadier is Indiana state director for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates.

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