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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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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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