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Hebenstreit: Lawyers and the Election Process

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IBA-hebenstreitImagine a fall Sunday afternoon and Lucas Oil Stadium is filled to capacity with Hoosiers. But before the Colts take the field, the announcer asks the audience to stand. Then the announcer directs that all in attendance who are registered to vote should remain standing. Some would certainly take their seats—in fact, 39 % of the fans would sit down since they are not even registered to vote. Then the announcer instructs all who did not vote in the 2010 midterm elections to be seated. How many would be on their feet? According to a recently issued report only 39 of 100 fans would still be standing if the fans were representative of Indiana citizens. This is a statistic that is truly shameful.

Recently the 2011 Indiana Civic Health Index “report card” was published. The National Conference on Citizenship supports such studies throughout the Country and Chief Justice Randall Shepard and Former US Congressman Lee Hamilton co-chaired the study for Indiana. It was based in large part on analysis of the US Census Bureau Current Population Survey. By and large, we Hoosiers do take part in community service and the social aspects of civic life, but fall far short in connection with voter registration as well as voter turnout. In 2010, 61.2% of Hoosiers were registered to vote which placed us in 43rd place in the United States. We were even worse in voter turnout. Only 39.4% of Indiana residents actually voted in the 2010 elections which placed us in 48th position. The national average was 45.4%—a full six points higher than Indiana was able to muster.

The point of the study was not to berate Hoosiers, but to determine what areas need help. Why do we score so low on voting? Perhaps it is the belief that nothing will fix our situation, but that will only become a self fulfilling prophesy. If we don’t care enough to solve it, who will?

I am even more curious about the results if that announcer then asked everyone to sit who has never volunteered to work an election. That could be mean an inspector, precinct worker, clerk, judge, commissioner or other “official for the day” who makes sure that we are all afforded the Constitutionally guaranteed right to have a voice in the selection of our government. I suspect that it would be shockingly low.

Sometimes memories get distorted with age, but my recollection is that when I was a new lawyer, there were attorneys at virtually all polling locations. The Courts were closed, and it was almost expected that attorneys would participate in the process on Election Day. Attorneys worked at the polling places and manned the positions at the City County Building to insure that all polling places opened and were fully operational for the voting public. I know that the pressure is now greater to generate billable hours, but what could be more important than the fundamental right to vote?

In the election process, the inspector is the “czar” of the polling place. The Inspector controls all aspects of voting at the designated the location and ultimately delivers the ballots to the Central location for counting after the polls close. Under our current system, it is the party of the Clerk who is in charge of filling the Inspector positions. Then each party is expected to have a judge and a clerk to assist the Inspector at each polling location. Since there are 590 precincts in Marion County, that means that for the system to operate as established, Beth White, our County Clerk needs almost 3000 volunteers just to work the polls. There is a small stipend paid for the service, but that is not really the point. Our system has been developed and morphed over the years to provide as fair and impartial process as is possible. That is one of the fundamental rights our Founding Fathers felt was critically important for the preservation of our Republic.

We, as attorneys, live in a world of laws. We practice in a world of peaceful elections and resort to impartial Courts for the resolution of disputes. Who better than attorneys to insure that the system works properly?

The IndyBar offers training for those who are willing to serve as Inspectors. The training will be held at the IBA offices on October 13th from 9AM until noon. All attorneys who attend will receive 3 hours of CLE credit. In this electronic and digital age, you could work the polls and still be in touch with the office and /or your clients. We should consider it our calling to insure that our system of government is preserved and fully manned. If you are not interested in serving as an Inspector, call either political party and volunteer to be a judge or clerk at your local polling location. It is the least we can do to push our abysmal ranking higher.•

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