A downstate lawmaker is backing a proposal to allow for election day registration and the extension of polling hours.
The bill filed by Rep. Tonya Pfaff, D-Terre Haute, was referred to the House election and apportionments committee, but a hearing hasn’t been announced.
Pfaff, a Terre Haute teacher and freshman lawmaker, said in a statement she believes the measure would improve Indiana’s voter turnout.
“Indiana has traditionally had poor voter turnout to the point that it was celebrated when we reached over 50 percent in 2018,” Pfaff said. “We should always be striving to do better as a state.”
Indiana now ends voter registration about a month before an election. Voters typically become more engaged in the election in that window, and then find out they waiting too long to register, Pfaff said. Her bill would allow voters to register until noon on election day.
“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 said Indiana is one of two states close polls at 6 p.m. Her bill would keep them open until 8 p.m.
“Most Hoosiers work during the day,” Pfaff said. “They want to go home and feed their kids,” she said. “By the time dinner is over, the polls are closed and they’ve missed their opportunity to vote.”
Pfaff’s bill is one of several Democratic attempts in recent years to change Indiana’s voting laws. Few such measures have gained traction in the General Assembly where Republicans hold super majorities in both chambers.
Reaction to Pfaff’s bill falls predictably along party lines.
“Both those ideas have been talked about before. I don’t see value in either one,” said Michael Simpson, chairman of the Porter County Republican Party.
“I don’t think same day voter registration would have any effect on getting voters to turn out when they have all year,” said Simpson. As for keeping polls open later, Simpson said Indiana already offers voters the option of an absentee ballot and early voting.
Simpson said he would like to see research on the impact of extending polling hours.
“Keeping polls open longer would cost more money. I need to know the value and would it bring us more voters. Everyone seems to forget polls are open 30 days prior to an election and on Saturdays.”
Highland Clerk-Treasurer Michael Griffin, a Democrat, said he favors removing administrative barriers to voting.
“As described, Rep. Pfaff’s bill seems a rational path to that end,” he said.
Griffin said same day registration would protect against repeat voting without impeding voters on election day.
Extending the polling hours would provide greater flexibility for voters, he said.
“These should be embraced as positive steps to improving voter turnout and reducing voter frustration.”
While not part of Pfaff’s bill, Griffin said he would also support extending the early voting period, which is now 29 days prior to an election.