2019 report finds Hoosiers continuing to avoid ballot box

With the release of the fourth measurement of Indiana’s civic engagement, the authors are providing an outline of strategies for expanding civic education programs and improving voting rates.

The recommendations in the 2019 Indiana Civic Health Index come as the Hoosier State continues to rank in the bottom 10 of all states on voting and in the bottom third on voter registration. Since the first index was released eight years ago, Hoosiers have been consistent in avoiding the ballot box but have outpaced the national average in participation in community-related activities, such as volunteering and giving.

Former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton, retired Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall Shepard and former Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller released the 2019 report and discussed the findings at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law.

The 2019 Indiana Civic Health Index was the result of collaboration between a range of state and national organizations. The partners are the Indiana Bar Foundation and the Indiana Supreme Court, along with Indiana University Northwest, Indiana Citizen Education Foundation Inc., The Center for Representative Government at Indiana University, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs and the National Conference on Citizenship.

According to the 2019 Index, Indiana residents indicated they are disenchanted with the political process. During the 2016 presidential election, Hoosiers said they did not vote because they did not like the candidates or campaign issues. Two years later during the 2018 midterms, Hoosiers said they did not register to vote because they were not interested in the election or politics.

In 2018, Indiana ranked 37th in voter registration, with 65.3% of the eligible voters registered. Also in 2016, voter registration in the state reached 68.8%, but still Indiana was ranked 40th in the country.

Voting totals were not much better, the report found. For the 2018 midterm election, just 49.3% of Hoosier voters cast a ballot, placing the state at 43rd in the nation. The 2016 presidential election brought a slight improvement with 58.3%, which put the state in 41st place.

Conversely, Hoosiers, on average, are more likely than other Americans to attend a religious service or be part of a civic or service organization. In general, involvement in community groups has been growing, with 40.2% of all Indiana residents in 2016 participating in at least one group, a bump of 3.6% over 2011.

To improve Indiana’s civic engagement, the report’s authors recommend the state convene a civic education task force. The group would study methods of instruction, programs and education outcomes, then offer specific policy recommendations to increase civic education among all age groups in Indiana.

Further, the report is advocating that Indiana set the goal of moving from the bottom tier of the rankings in registration and turnout to the top tier in the 2020 presidential election. The authors acknowledge achieving such a goal will require “the creation and implementation of the State’s first concerted, nonpartisan, statewide campaign to encourage all eligible Hoosiers to register and vote.”

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