Jan 12, 2024 - News

Lawmaker says free bus rides on Election Day are "not fair"

Illustration of a bus dividing a green and gold background, with elements of ballots behind it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

IndyGo's initiative to give free Election Day rides is under threat at the Statehouse.

Driving the news: Sen. Gary Byrne (R-Byrneville) has filed a bill to prohibit public transportation agencies from offering free or reduced-fare rides on election days.

Why it matters: Free fares remove one barrier to voting access for residents, especially low-income Hoosiers who may not have a car or be able to afford the trip.

State of play: For the past two years, the AARP of Indiana has sponsored free Election Day rides on public transit in Indianapolis, Gary, Fort Wayne and Evansville.

The big picture: Byrne told Axios the bill is about fairness for Hoosiers, like those who live in rural areas, who don't have access to public transportation.

  • "The rural parts of those counties can't get a free ride," he said.
  • Byrne said early voting and vote by mail give people who may struggle to reach the polls on Election Day other opportunities to vote.

Reality check: Not everyone can vote by mail in Indiana.

  • Indiana is one of 14 states that require an excuse to vote by mail.
  • The elderly, military and public safety officers and people with a disability are among those who qualify.

Threat level: Some advocacy groups are calling the bill voter suppression.

Yes, but: Julia Vaughn, Common Cause Indiana executive director, doesn't think the legislation would have a significant impact on elections or voter turnout, but said it sends a bad message in a state that already struggles with low voter turnout.

  • "We need to make voting more accessible and convenient to people," she said.

Between the lines: The urban areas where free public transportation is being offered on Election Day are more likely to vote for Democrats, while rural areas tend to favor Republicans.

  • Byrne said the bill wasn't about partisan politics.

Meanwhile, Sen. Andrea Hunley (D-Indianapolis) said the bill isn't a matter of fairness, but of equity.

  • "Equity is giving people what they need and some people need a free ride to the polls."

What they're saying: "We'll take a look at it, if it makes its way (to me)," Gov. Eric Holcomb said. "I've always said I want it to be easy to vote in Indiana and hard to cheat, and I think we have a playbook in place for that right now."

What's next: Senate Bill 187 was assigned to the Senate Local Government Committee, but has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.

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