By Trent Deckard, Co-Director, Indiana Election Division
It wasn't so long ago that Indiana voters consistently turned out at the polls, even in mid-term and municipal elections.
However, last November, barely 30 percent of Hoosiers who were registered to vote actually cast a ballot on Election Day, ranking Indiana at the bottom for turnout nationwide.
This trend is no accident: as a state, we've made it much more difficult to vote, creating barriers where we could have been opening doors. The result over the past 25 years is a sharp decline in the number of people participating in the democratic process.
Recently, I was re-appointed to serve a four-year term as co-director of the Indiana Election Division, the bipartisan agency that works with the Secretary of State, Indiana Election Commission and local election officials to ensure free and fair elections across our great state. It's an honor to serve, and it's a role I take seriously.
That’s why I want to publicly raise concerns about proposed legislation this session that will further decrease turnout and create unnecessary hurdles for law-abiding Hoosiers. Lawmakers currently are debating three bills that will make it harder to register to vote, request an absentee ballot by mail, and visit a polling place.
Senate Bill 466 would discourage students from registering to vote in the counties where they reside, study, raise children, worship, and consider themselves part of the community. It also prevents disabled Hoosier voters from allowing caregivers to assist with their absentee application.
Senate Bill 535 creates an unnecessary extra step for those voting by mail by requiring a voter registration number from the state or local clerk’s office to apply for an absentee ballot. This additional burden creates an unfunded mandate for local governments that will wind up costing our state $1.3 million annually to administer.
Finally, House Bill 1008 eliminates straight ticket voting, which will lead to longer voting times for Hoosiers, fewer choices and longer lines at the polls. In 2012 and 2014, knowledgeable voters cast more than 1.5 million straight ticket ballots. Those who wanted to vote on individual races were still able to do so.
None of these legislative efforts do anything to increase turnout and, consequently, the number of Hoosiers participating in their government. They are costly solutions in search of problems that simply do not exist.
As co-director of the Indiana Election Division, I hope lawmakers will abandon these proposals in favor of ideas that will increase participation. We know, for example, that states that have embraced same-day registration, increased early voting days and hours, and encouraged absentee ballot voting have enjoyed dramatic increases in turnout.
Election proposals do not create big headlines, but the end result -- voters who cannot be heard or who give up on the system -- is the erosion of the very process that underpins our democracy and strengthens our state and nation. As public servants, we cannot allow that to happen.
The opinions expressed in this piece reflect the views of Trent Deckard as co-director of the Indiana Election Division. They do not reflect the official views of the bi-partisan Indiana Election Division or State of Indiana.