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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. Someone off their meds? C'mon John, it is called the politics of Empire. Get with the program, will ya? How can we build one world under secularist ideals without breaking a few eggs? Of course, once it is fully built, is the American public who will feel the deadly grip of the velvet glove. One cannot lay down with dogs without getting fleas. The cup of wrath is nearly full, John Smith, nearly full. Oops, there I go, almost sounding as alarmist as Smith. Guess he and I both need to listen to this again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRnQ65J02XA

  2. Charles Rice was one of the greatest of the so-called great generation in America. I was privileged to count him among my mentors. He stood firm for Christ and Christ's Church in the Spirit of Thomas More, always quick to be a good servant of the King, but always God's first. I had Rice come speak to 700 in Fort Wayne as Obama took office. Rice was concerned that this rise of aggressive secularism and militant Islam were dual threats to Christendom,er, please forgive, I meant to say "Western Civilization". RIP Charlie. You are safe at home.

  3. It's a big fat black mark against the US that they radicalized a lot of these Afghan jihadis in the 80s to fight the soviets and then when they predictably got around to biting the hand that fed them, the US had to invade their homelands, install a bunch of corrupt drug kingpins and kleptocrats, take these guys and torture the hell out of them. Why for example did the US have to sodomize them? Dubya said "they hate us for our freedoms!" Here, try some of that freedom whether you like it or not!!! Now they got even more reasons to hate us-- lets just keep bombing the crap out of their populations, installing more puppet regimes, arming one faction against another, etc etc etc.... the US is becoming a monster. No wonder they hate us. Here's my modest recommendation. How about we follow "Just War" theory in the future. St Augustine had it right. How about we treat these obvious prisoners of war according to the Geneva convention instead of torturing them in sadistic and perverted ways.

  4. As usual, John is "spot-on." The subtle but poignant points he makes are numerous and warrant reflection by mediators and users. Oh but were it so simple.

  5. ACLU. Way to step up against the police state. I see a lot of things from the ACLU I don't like but this one is a gold star in its column.... instead of fighting it the authorities should apologize and back off.

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