Georgia officials seemed surprised when the state's major corporations threw their muscle behind those protesting newly enacted voting restrictions. If Indiana lawmakers approve Senate Bill 353, they can't say they weren't warned. No less than Eli Lilly and Co., perhaps the state's premier corporate entity, has made its objections known in advance.
“It serves only to confer acceptance of the widespread falsehood that there is something to be questioned about the outcome of last year's election,” Stephen Fry, the pharmaceutical company's senior vice president for human resources and diversity, told the House Elections Committee Tuesday. “This effort and others like it, albeit using different language, only serve to perpetuate the narrative that the 2020 election outcome was flawed or compromised in some way.”
Fry's reference is to baseless claims that widespread voter fraud was responsible for President Joe Biden's win last November. The fraud claim is particularly absurd in Indiana, where former President Donald Trump received 1.73 million votes to Biden's 1.24 million.
Fry said Lilly supports efforts to make it easier for people to exercise their right to vote. The company provides its employees up to four hours of paid time off to vote early or on Election Day. Absentee voting should be supported, not restricted, he said. Eli Lilly believes SB 353 would restrict voting.
But Sen. Erin Houchin, the bill's author, said Tuesday that SB 353 would ensure each voter is entitled to one vote by requiring Hoosiers who submit an absentee ballot application to include either their driver's license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number on the application. It's the same requirement Georgia lawmakers approved last month, after voters there chose Biden over Trump and, in electing Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, flipped the U.S. Senate from red to blue.
Indiana opponents pointed out that many applications would be rejected because voters wouldn't remember which of the numbers is on file with their county election office when they applied for a mail-in ballot application. Older voter registration records would not have either of the numbers.
Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, who once served as the state's top election official and has repeated unfounded claims of election fraud, added his voice to the 2020 election mistruths in arguing for the new regulations.
“When people see that those things aren't being done or that folks are arguing against doing that minimal thing, they don't have confidence in the process and then they don't participate,” Rokita said. “And that's how we lose the republic.”
The attorney general's hyperbole aside, Indiana lawmakers are poised to tighten voting rules in a state where voting already is more difficult than elsewhere.
Even under pandemic conditions, Republican state officials would not allow no-excuse absentee voting in November. Thousands of Hoosiers stood in hours-long lines to cast early ballots.
No-excuse mail-in votes were allowed in the 2020 primary, but the authority Gov. Eric Holcomb, then-Secretary of State Connie Lawson and the Indiana Election Commission used to move the primary from May to June and to waive absentee ballot restrictions is another target of Houchin's bill.
A supporter of the legislation said Tuesday those decisions should be made by the legislature, not in a boardroom. But Indiana voters were grateful last year when the executive branch acted decisively in the midst of the pandemic to protect Hoosiers and stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Eli Lilly is not the only Indiana-based company to address voting rights in recent days. Tom Linebarger, chairman and CEO of Cummins Inc., issued a strong statement in response to Georgia's voter suppression effort.
“We believe efforts to restrict voting access are discriminatory, largely aimed at our Black and brown citizens, and have no place in the inclusive communities we are committed to building,” Linebarger said
Fry, the Eli Lilly official, said his company will “work against any effort that makes exercising the right to vote more difficult.”
Indiana lawmakers: You've been warned.