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Morris: It's election season - is anyone paying attention?

November 9, 2011
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commentary-morris-gregI’m sure you’ve noticed there is a hotly contested election for mayor of Indianapolis. In my business circles, it has been a frequent focus of discussion for months.

The problem with this campaign and most others is, by the time the election gets here, after all the negative commercials and nasty exchanges, we are so disgusted with the whole process, we don’t care who wins. We just want it to be over. But, we have to care.

I’m here to defend the process and encourage more discussion and more engagement in elections and other matters of civic importance. Even with all the imperfections, our political system is the best in the world. It is not only our right, but it is our duty, to educate ourselves on the issues and vote freely for the candidates of our choice. From local elections to the presidency, it matters who is in office. Our votes do matter.

In the past 60 days, results of the 2011 Indiana Civic Health Index were released. There’s been some media coverage on this report, including in this paper, but some findings need to be repeated over and over until we are able to influence change in civic engagement in this state.

First, a little background on the report. The Indiana Civic Health Index examines behaviors and attitudes of Hoosiers regarding civic life and explores resources and impediments that affect how residents of Indiana participate in civic life. Our state information is then combined with data from other states to produce America’s Civic Health Index.

The partners on this project include National Conference on Citizenship, Center on Congress, Indiana Bar Foundation, Indiana Supreme Court, Indiana University Northwest and the Hoosier State Press Association Foundation.

The report looks at engagement in various categories, such as joining an organization, volunteering, social connectedness that comes from spending time with family and neighbors, and voter registration and turnout. For this particular discussion, I’m going to concentrate on voter registration and turnout.

Indiana fares well in some areas of the report, but Indiana’s voter registration and turnout numbers are pathetic. There’s no nice way to say it. Indiana ranked 48th in the nation in voter turnout among residents in 2010, with a turnout rate of 39.4 percent, six percentage points lower than the national average of 45.5 percent, which is also unacceptable. In 2006, Indiana’s voter turnout was 45.5 percent.

Indiana ranked 43rd in the number of residents registered to vote, at 61.2 percent, down from 65.4 percent in 2006. With only a few exceptions, fewer people have voted in Indiana than nationally in every midterm election since 1974. In addition, Indiana ranked 48th in the frequency of its residents discussing politics.

You’re going to be hearing a lot more from me on civic engagement because I know I’m talking to influencers. We need to all get on the same page and try to effect some positive change in this area.

I don’t want to leave the impression that nothing is being done to try to improve these results. Many great programs exist to improve civic engagement. Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall Shepard has been active in this area. The Indiana Supreme Court runs Courts in the Classroom to help educators, students, historians and interested citizens learn more about the history and operation of Indiana’s judicial branch.

The Indiana Bar Foundation has been supporting programs since 1996, like We the People, the Citizen and the Constitution, the Indiana Legislative Youth Advisory Council and the United States Senate Youth Program, all designed to engage Hoosier students in the workings of government.

Many other worthwhile endeavors are taking place, but each of us needs to take an active role in leading by example and educating folks on the importance of civic engagement. Without taking sides, could there be a more important presidential election than the one coming up next year? What about the future of Indiana as we elect a new governor?

As this election cycle wraps up, it’s OK to take a short break, but there’s a lot of work to do between now and the next election. Your leadership, your civic engagement and your vote all matter. Please let me know what you think. We’ll work on this together.•
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Greg Morris is president of IBJ Media and publisher of the Indianapolis Business Journal, a sister publication of Indiana Lawyer. To comment on this column, send email to gmorris@ibj.com. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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