A sea of constituents flooded the aisle and spilled out the doorway of a small chamber room of the Statehouse Wednesday afternoon.
Most of them, at least 17 people, were waiting to testify to the House Elections and Apportionment Committee regarding House Bill 1311, a bill that proposes to amend the Indiana Election Code by restricting out-of-state university students from voting in Indiana elections.
The bill’s author, Rep. Peggy Mayfield, R-Martinsville, who also has a seat on the elections committee, addressed the table of representatives.
“The assumption is even your education facility doesn’t recognize (students) as an Indiana resident,” she said. “The law is already on the books. Colleges used to make sure that students knew the process for absentee voting, and that’s not necessarily the case anymore.”
Rep. Terry Goodin, D-Austin, put on the brakes, asserting HB 1311 might not be the vehicle to take on the voting issues at hand, such as county redistricting and voter fraud.
“I just get concerned when we disenfranchise people from voting,” he said. “It’s a serious statement it sends out.”
IU College Democrats President Aaron Dy said his organization just barely caught wind of the bill — hearing about it through the Indiana Young Democrats three days before the House Committee convened.
Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, the committee chairman, said the bill will be put to a vote the next time the committee is in session.
“It’s not over yet,” Dy said. “We have to wait to see what action they’re going to take. We’re not going to stop applying pressure to let them know we oppose this. We’re going to continue to make sure they know we have an issue with that. If they’re willing to have those conversations, we’re willing to be a part of those conversations.”
Dy said the underlying issue is a matter of student rights — an issue that has united the Democratic and Republican student parties on the same front.
“We haven’t made a joint statement or met,” Dy said.
The IU College Republicans executive board, to Dy’s knowledge, has not been able to meet at this point to further discuss the issue and advise a course of action.
“We’re reaching out to them as this is going on,” he said.
It is important for the campus political organizations to be reaching out to other student groups, Dy said.
As far as the amendment in the bill that would ban out-of-state students from voting in Indiana elections, Dy said HB 1311 would have to undergo “pretty big changes” to earn the College Democrats’ support.
“On that issue of residency, we have an issue with that on a matter on principle,” he said. “There may be legitimate concerns on things like voter fraud, but this isn’t the way to do it.”
Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, stood before the committee, his voice stern and his fingers hitting the top of the podium whenever he made a point.
“I’m a little upset and offended by what I’ve heard here today,” Pierce said, alleging points made in favor of the proposed legislation illustrated rank discrimination. “We’re going to disenfranchise (students). I reject this idea that there is a standard practice in a student population that they’re voting in two places. We should not be treating these students like they’re aliens from another planet.”
“Another state,” a committee member chuckled.
Pierce reinforced the assertion that HB 1311 was a strike against the younger end of the voting demographic, such as college students — groups that typically vote Democratic.
IU Professor Chaim Julian joined Pierce and Dy in opposition of HB 1311.
Julian described himself as an active citizen, emphasizing Bloomington as his home. It was, however, a gradual process, he said.
“A very funny thing happened to me on the way to my degree,” Julian said. “I fell in love with Bloomington.”
Citing his civic duties, Julian brought to the committee’s attention that he had even served double jury duty. He took pride in his residency and civic contributions.
“What is the point of making these contributions if I don’t have a voice,” Julian said.
The assumption of the amendment is that students are irresponsible, he said. That students just register, unaware of what it is, or more so who it is, they’re electing.
“How do you know that,” he demanded. “Voting is a right of citizenship. We should not have to go through hoops to exercise that right. And that’s what this bill does.”