Last week, Gov. Mitch Daniels signed into law an election bill that makes voter registration easier. At the same time, and with inadequate explanation, he vetoed another bill that would have made it more convenient for voters to cast their election ballots. Hoosier voters and lawmakers deserve a clearer justification from Daniels about his objections to the bill.
Senate Bill 209 passed in the Senate 48-0 and in the House 55-43. It allows the three-member county election boards to create multiple early-voting sites by a 2-1 majority board vote rather than the previous requirement for a unanimous 3-0 vote. Every county must have one early-voting center, but the decision to open additional satellite early-voting centers must be unanimous. That provision was designed to eliminate partisan skirmishes similar to the long legal battle that occurred in Lake County last fall. Democratic members of the Lake County election board opened more early-voting centers to meet demand, but Republican members opposed the move and asked the courts to close the sites.
Early voting was popular in the last general election. One in six Hoosier voters cast early ballots before Election Day. In Allen County, slightly more than 20 percent of voters voted outside their assigned precinct through early voting or absentee ballots, with almost 13 percent of voters taking advantage of the early-voting center at the City-County Building.
Daniels’ veto makes it clear he objects to the early-voting bill. A statement released by Daniels said, 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.
But the statement doesn’t go far enough in explaining exactly what it would take to win his support. His office said there would be no further comment or explanation, including offering suggestions to legislators about what safeguards the bill needs to make it acceptable to Daniels.
The governor’s coyness about the voting bill is reminiscent of his reaction to legislators about the state budget. Daniels leveled harsh criticism of legislators’ budget efforts but offered legislators only hints about his spending plan. Lawmakers failed to pass a budget, requiring a costly special session in June.
Secretary of State Todd Rokita, Indiana’s chief election official, has no problem explaining his objections to the veto from a fellow Republican: How ironic it is that the one local government reform that actually passes the legislature ends up getting vetoed, he said. 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.
Democrats justifiably criticize Rokita for promoting efforts to prevent unlikely voter fraud at the expense of likely voter disenfranchisement. If Rokita, who pushed for Indiana’s most-stringent voter identification requirements, approves of the bill, why should Daniels object?