Indiana needs to encourage voter turnout
Indiana’s reputation is taking a beating this spring, and not just because of the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Indiana’s poor voter turnout in 2014 also is hurting our image. It has brought publicity such as this opening sentence in a Chicago Tribune story:
“When it comes to voting, Indiana’s recent record is pretty dismal — ranking dead last in the nation in voter turnout in the 2014 election.”
The new 2015 Indiana Civic Health Index calls attention to Hoosiers’ sorry showing with only 27.8 percent of registered voters casting ballots last November. That compares to a national average of 35.9 percent.
The Indiana Secretary of State shows a slightly higher statewide turnout of 30 percent last fall.
Before we heap blame on Hoosier voters, let’s concede that we might have had the nation’s most boring elections.
Indiana did not elect a governor or a U.S. senator in 2014. Several congressional races were guaranteed landslides. Many contests for the state legislature saw lopsided victories. Voters can be excused for yawning at last year’s ballots.
Give Hoosier voters a reason to pay attention, such as the 2012 election, and they do better. Reports show a 58 percent turnout statewide in that presidential year.
Still, Indiana trailed the national average of 62 percent turnout in 2012.
State and local officials are searching for remedies.
Vote centers also allow early voting in high-traffic public locations. Recent changes have encouraged early voting across Indiana. Results from November show 16 percent of Hoosiers cast their votes early.
Statewide, no one is talking about another factor that might discourage voting: Indiana shares the nation’s earliest poll-closing time of 6 p.m. Only two other states, Kentucky and Hawaii, stop voting that early.
Nineteen states keep their polls open until 7 p.m., with four states closing at 7:30 and at 8 p.m.
Indiana also ranks in a minority of states with only 12 hours for voting. A total of 29 states allow 13 hours or more.
Of the states with 12-hour voting windows, nearly all start and finish later than us.
If Hoosier leaders are looking for a cheap and easy way to increase voter participation, they should give serious thought to keeping the polls open past 6 p.m. All those states that stay open later can’t be wrong — because all of them are beating us in voter turnout.
Leave reporter’s notes alone
The Elkhart Truth is waging a fight against an order by the county prosecutor’s office for a reporter to testify and surrender notes from an interview involving a 2014 murder case.
But make no mistake, the principles at stake should matter to every one of us — members of the media and the general public alike.
The office of Prosecutor Curtis Hill wants Emily Pfund, who covers crimes and courts for the Elkhart newspaper, to turn over her notes and recordings from her coverage of Freddie Rhodes, a 19-year-old charged with murder.
The notice, filed in Elkhart Circuit Court, orders Pfund to produce “any and all written notes and/or memorabilia, and audio and/or video recordings … relating to any contacts with one Freddie Rhodes, or information that has come from Freddie Rhodes or is attributed to have come from Freddie Rhodes.”
In a statement, a spokesman for Hill said the office wants the information because Rhodes’ statements to Pfund conflicted with the statement he made to police.
Ryan Martin, managing editor for The Truth, expressed concern about the “chilling effect” the subpoena could have on journalists statewide.
“When someone from the community is speaking with the press, they expect the press to operate independently,” he said. “That is a reasonable expectation, at least partially covered by our First Amendment.”
State law also comes into play. Indiana’s shield law protects reporters from being forced to reveal information about their sources, and for good reason.
Imagine a world where journalists are seen as part of prosecutors’ investigatory process, assisting officials in building their cases.
That’s a world where sources would have little or no reason to trust journalists as the independent voices that they ought to be — that they must be in a free society. And if sources are afraid to talk to journalists, if they fear the possible ramifications of coming forward, the public’s right to know suffers.
Besides, if Hill’s office really wants to know what Pfund discovered, how about just reading the newspaper? As Martin pointed out, “the story shows all the sources we used, so the prosecutor’s office already has access to everything we had access to.”
So for our fellow journalists at the Truth, we have a simple message: Fight on. You’re right.
Our message to Hill is just as simple: The subpeona is an ill-conceived idea, and it won’t help your case against Rhodes. We don’t need people questioning whether journalists are independent from law enforcement. The role of journalists, after all, is to act as watchdogs of government. Let’s not throw a cold, wet blanket on one of the bedrocks of our society.
Give Hoosiers more voice in presidential choice
If you want more Hoosiers to vote, give us good reasons.
Indiana leaders should be exploring every idea for improving voter turnout. We need to repair our reputation as the state with the lowest turnout in 2014.
We should change our 6 p.m. time for closing the polls. Only three states close that early, and a later closing time would make voting more convenient.
Here’s another no-cost idea that could boost voting: move our primary elections to March.
Right now, Hoosiers vote in primary elections at the beginning of May.
With a March primary, Hoosiers would have a much better chance to play a key role in choosing presidential nominees.
Current schedules show 30-plus states will conduct caucuses or primaries before Indiana in 2016. The number is inexact, because several states have not chosen their caucus dates. It’s a safe bet they’ll caucus long before May, in order to increase their influence.
Only about a dozen states will conduct primaries later than Indiana.
In some years, we get lucky. If a presidential nomination race remains undecided when May rolls around, Indiana will get loads of attention as the only state voting in the first week of May. That happened in 2008 on the Democratic side.
Indiana became campaign central for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the days leading up to our primary in 2008. Former President Bill Clinton spoke in Angola and Kendallville. A visit by a president of any kind — even a controversial ex-president — ranks as a once-in-a-lifetime event around here.
But 2008 ranks as a rare exception — it was perhaps the first year with so much riding on Indiana’s vote since 1968. In most presidential election years, parties have their nominations all wrapped up by the time Hoosiers get around to voting. Names of presidential contenders may be on our primary ballots, but our votes carry no weight.
Indiana deserves to have as much influence as other states in choosing presidential nominees. If we moved our primary to March, we’d have a strong chance of swaying the results.
A meaningful presidential primary election would attract more Hoosier voters to participate. That would be good in more ways than giving us a voice in White House choices.
If more voters came out for primaries, our nominees in state and local races would be more representative of all Hoosiers. More people would get in the habit of voting. If people help choose nominees in the spring, they’ll come back to support those candidates in the fall.
It’s too late to do anything about moving up our primary date for 2016, but Indiana should begin looking seriously at an earlier primary as soon as possible. We should play a major role in choosing presidential nominees every four years — not just every few decades.
State must waste millions after religious freedom act mess
We now have the beginning of a price tag on the damage Gov. Mike Pence and the Republican super-majority in the Indiana General Assembly have caused the state over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act fiasco.
That’s the amount the state’s economic development and tourism agencies announced they will spend to hire the international public relations company Porter Novelli to buff up Indiana’s tarnished image. And that doesn’t include the cost of purchasing actual advertising.
Pence and lawmakers closed their eyes and ears to criticism as they passed the act, which critics said would allow discrimination of gay and lesbian Hoosiers based on an argument of religious freedom. A national firestorm of complaints about the law followed, as lawmakers argued they weren’t trying to discriminate but rather enhance the security of religious liberty.
They lost badly in the court of public opinion and dragged the entire state through the mud with them. By the time the legislature passed clarifying legislation, and the governor signed it, much damage had been done.
Now, money that could well have been earmarked in other ways must be spent to try to rebuild the state’s reputation as a welcoming place.
A public relations campaign can’t hurt. However, the very need for it is another dispiriting chapter in this total failure of leadership.