As part of a national effort, members of the Marion County Bar Association are going to neighborhoods and churches to help lower-income residents get registered to vote prior to the upcoming November election.
The work is part of the Election Protection Project by the National Bar Association. As an affiliate chapter of the NBA, the Marion County Bar Association is hosting two voter registration drives – the first was Sept. 21 and the second is Sept. 28.
Tara Melton, attorney and member of the MCBA, said the local association decided to respond to the call from the NBA after noting the extremely lower voter participation in the May primaries.
“What we’re doing is registering people to vote and we’re pushing them to go vote if they are registered,” Melton said. “We decided to really put forth an effort to encourage the citizens of Marion County to get out and vote.”
The MCBA’s voter registration initiative is non-partisan and focused on low socio-economic areas of Indianapolis where voting and voter registration tends to be very limited.
Originally, the MCBA planned to have a registration drive Sept. 21 at Devington Plaza, but few members from the association signed up to volunteer, Melton said. So instead, the association had members set up registration tables at their churches.
Melton said she is not concerned about getting participants for this Sunday’s drive.
The MCBA hopes to have registration tables in six different locations, both inside churches as well as in high-traffic areas of nearby neighborhoods. From the response among voters last Sunday, Melton is optimistic the MCBA will be successful in getting people registered to vote.
“I find that people don’t think about it but when you remind them, they do it,” she said.
Still, there are challenges to getting residents registered and to the polls.
Melton is most concerned about voter apathy. She sees off-year elections as especially focused on local issues, but people either do not know who is on the ballot or they do not believe their vote will matter.
Pointing to the recent riots in Ferguson, Missouri, Melton noted 70 percent of the residents in that community are minorities but only 3 percent are registered to vote. Melton tries to cut through the apathy by talking to residents who do not think voting will change things.
Another area of concern is the trouble some residents are having with getting state-issue photo ID cards. These cards are needed to be able to cast a ballot in Indiana, but Melton said residents are becoming frustrated and giving up trying to obtain one.
To get the photo ID card, a voter must present a Social Security card and birth certificate. Since many lower-income residents cannot apply online for a Social Security card because they do not have access to a computer, they have to go to the federal building. However, Melton said these residents soon get into a Catch-22 situation because they do not have a photo ID that is necessary to get into the federal building.
“It’s a mess,” Melton said, “It’s really a mess.”
The MCBA is discussing other election activities after the registration drive is complete. Efforts might focus on getting association members to the polls to monitor election day voting and working with other organizations to help residents get to the polls.