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No easy fix for waning voter interest

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In November, less than 30 percent of registered voters in Indiana’s five largest counties cast ballots in their municipal elections. Low voter turnout – particularly in mid-term elections – has been a problem in Indiana for decades, according to a report released this year.

The report – the Indiana Civic Health Index – showed that in 2010, Indiana ranked 48th in the nation in voter turnout. And the lack of enthusiasm for voting has been a trend since 1974.

While many people are aware of Indiana’s poor voter engagement, the biggest challenge in finding a solution may be pinpointing its cause.

Behind the research

Leading the efforts to assess Indiana’s civic health are former Congressman Lee Hamilton, director of The Center on Congress at Indiana University, and Indiana Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard.

“I’d have to say that the work that Congressman Hamilton and I have been doing so far has been descriptive, not prescriptive … and what we’re now doing is talking with people about their reactions to their report,” Shepard said.

The two have been traveling around the state to discuss the report and have presented on its findings in Gary, South Bend, Evansville and Fort Wayne.

“We were both quite surprised at the results showing that Indiana’s level of turnout is toward the back of the pack,” Shepard said. “Most people would say Indiana is a place where politics is a contact sport, and lots of people are engaged in it, but the Civic Health Index said we ranked in the 40s.”

The report shows that in 2010, Indiana’s voter turnout rate was 39.4 percent, six percentage points lower than the national average. Indiana ranked 36th in turnout in 2006, at 45.5 percent

But one explanation for Indiana’s low voter turnout may be faulty data.

Ball State University political science professors Raymond Scheele, Joe Losco, Gary Crawley and Sally Jo Vasicko wrote about voter turnout in their paper, “Improving Election Administration with Vote Centers: Toward a National Model.” They wrote that when voter turnout is calculated by dividing the number of voters by the number of registered voters, the result is merely a rough estimate, because the registered voter list may be outdated and include names of people who have died, moved or are otherwise disenfranchised. In Indiana, people who are incarcerated cannot vote.

Even if voter turnout numbers are accurate, they may not necessarily reflect how connected people are to local government. Shepard offered an example of how that reality plays out in voting booths.

“One of the things I remember after studying the 2008 results – there were something like almost 100,000 people who went to the polls and cast a vote in the presidential election and turned around and left. These are people who chose not to cast a vote for United States senator or governor,” Shepard said.

According to the Indiana Secretary of State’s office, turnout in the 2008 election was 62 percent – four percentage points higher than in 2004. In 2002, turnout was 39 percent. Analysts say that a competitive election and get-out-the-vote initiatives are likely responsible for the surge in 2008 turnout.

Ease of voting

The U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Survey shows that in 2010, five of the 10 states with the best voter registration and turnout allow Election Day registration. North Dakota – the only state that does not require voter registration – had an eligible-voter turnout rate of 55.7 percent. But it’s not clear whether early voting alone explains these higher numbers.

In the BSU political science paper, the authors wrote that while voting centers make voting more convenient, the ease of accessibility is not substantial enough to draw large numbers of people who have traditionally not voted in the past.

This year, Evansville – Shepard’s hometown – offered for the first time 15 satellite voting centers, allowing people to vote at any of those locations. Shepard said that early voter turnout was higher, although overall turnout was not.

Under Indiana law, a municipality’s election board must unanimously agree to satellite voting centers before they can be established.

In 2008, early voting centers were challenged in the case John B. Curley, et al., v. Lake County Board of Elections, et al. The Lake County election board’s two Republican board members had voted against the satellite centers, but an attorney advised Democratic board members that a unanimous vote wasn’t needed.
 

bodensteiner-ivan-mug Bodensteiner

John Curley, chairman of the Lake County Indiana Republican Central Committee, filed the lawsuit. Valparaiso University School of Law Professor Ivan Bodensteiner was one of the attorneys for the appellees in that case.

“At some level, although it was not the basis for the claims that were being raised in the 2008 Indiana Court of Appeals decision with respect to the voting centers, certainly under the surface was the idea that the northern part of Lake County has a much higher percentage of racial minorities than the southern part … and if the case had been successful, meaning pre-Election Day voting could take place only in Crown Point, that would’ve made it much more difficult for racial minorities to vote,” Bodensteiner said.

“My personal opinion about the issue is that we ought to be taking steps to facilitate voting rather than taking steps that might be designed to or have the effect of discouraging voting,” he said.

The appellate court ruled the election board had not violated the law when it allowed early voting in the other Lake County Circuit Court offices in Gary, Hammond and East Chicago and that Curley failed to prove the trial court abused its discretion when it issued an injunction prohibiting the board from terminating the voting centers.

Voter ID

Some people oppose Indiana’s law that requires voters to show photo identification at their polling places, claiming it can create barriers to voting for people who don’t drive or may not have the means to obtain the documentation needed for a state-issued ID card.

In William Crawford, et al., v. Marion County Election Board, et al., the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law. But the opinion was not unanimous.

In his dissent, the late judge Terence Evans wrote, “Let’s not beat around the bush: The Indiana voter photo ID law is a not-too-thinly-veiled attempt to discourage election-day turnout by certain folks believed to skew Democratic.” Evans went on to say that while the law had allegedly been designed to prevent in-person voter fraud, no one in Indiana’s history had ever been charged with that crime and that nationwide, little evidence of in-person voter fraud existed. “If that’s the case, where is the justification for this law? Is it wise to use a sledgehammer to hit either a real or imaginary fly on a glass coffee table? I think not,” Evans wrote. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately upheld the constitutionality of the law.

Education and other factors

In his scholarly article, “Voter Turnout in the 2010 Midterm Election,” Michael McDonald, a professor at George Mason University, reported that states that have better-educated populations tend to have better voter turnout. And Shepard agrees.

“There’s an undeniable connection in the work that’s done in the educational field,” he said. “That’s one of the many reasons why Indiana created the Courts in the Classroom project – there’s a lot of value to exposing democracy and the courts to students.”

The Civic Health Index shows that 45 percent of Indiana citizens say they never discuss politics, which creates a void of conversation. “One logical place to fill that void is in the classroom,” the report states.

But Indiana is earning high marks in one area of voter engagement. On Dec. 13, the Pew Center on the States released a report assessing state election information websites. The report, “Being Online is Not Enough,” is an update to its 2008 report. It gave Indiana’s Secretary of State website a score of 80.6 out of 100, with 100 being a perfect score, in overall usability. That score indicates Indiana is one of 11 states with the highest ranking of “good.”•
 

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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