Indiana Citizen leads effort to get young Hoosiers registered to vote

With the voter registration deadline looming, The Indiana Citizen has launched a digital advertising campaign designed to get more 18- and 19-year-old Hoosiers registered for the November presidential election.

The push comes after a report from the Tufts University Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement showed a startling drop in registrations among Indiana’s youngest voters. Compared to 2016, voter registrations among 18- and 19-year-old Hoosiers are currently down 54%. In addition, registrations for voters ages 18 to 24 are down 11%.

Bill Moreau, co-founder of The Indiana Citizen, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization working to provide information about the candidates and issues to voters, worries the apathy that has long kept Indiana voters from the polls is being transmitted to the youngest Hoosiers.

“We have to do everything we can to extend a hand to our fellow citizens who are not yet engaged to come on in to the civic life of our state,” Moreau said. “Our state will be a healthier state if more and more of us participate.”

Indiana has been in the bottom 10 of states in four of the last five elections, according to the Indiana Civic Health Index. In 2016, the Hoosier state ranked 41st in turnout and in 2018, despite a record turnout for a mid-term election, the state finished 43rd.

Recent data does not offer much hope that the situation will improve. In mid-September, 4.68 million Hoosiers were registered, which is about 153,000 fewer than in 2016.

Indiana Citizen has launched a social media campaign, One More Voice, to prompt Indiana teenagers to register. Also, partnering groups are reaching out to school superintendents, school boards, high school administrators, teachers and parents.

Linda Hanson, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Indiana, noted the COVID-19 pandemic has handicapped the traditional effort to register high school seniors. As classes migrated online and social distancing policies were put in place, civic organizations have not been able to get into the schools to help the students register.

“We need to get more young people registered,” Hanson said. “If they start now, then the record shows they will continue to be engaged citizens. Getting them aware at this point and knowing that their voice will count is crucial.”

Indiana is also lagging behind its previous participation in the U.S. Census, which Moreau sees as more evidence of the state’s civic health crisis. In the 2010 national census, Indiana tied with Iowa for third in the nation, with 78% of Hoosiers mailing in their responses. The national rate was 72%.

However, with the census set to stop at the end of September, Indiana’s self-response rate is 70.0%.

“The alarmingly low registration among Hoosier 18- and 19-year-olds may be the clearest evidence yet that when older folks give up on Democracy, the younger generation will get the wrong message,” Moreau said.

Rose Meissner, president of the Community Foundation of St. Joseph County, sees civic participation as a way to help shift the focus of high school seniors and college students from the anxiety and challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Voter registration, she said, enables the young people to “look toward the future that is there for us on the other side of all this.”

Also, Meissner does not accept the common retort about Hoosiers not voting because they feel their votes do not matter.

“Your vote always matters,” Messiner said. “People fought hard for you to have the right to do it. If your vote doesn’t matter because your candidate’s going to win, then own a little piece of that victory. If your vote doesn’t matter because your candidate’s going to lose, don’t be a part of that defeat.”

Hoosiers can register to vote or check their voting status plus find the locations of their polling places by visiting the Secretary of State’s voter portal.

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