Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Columns

February 7, 2014

MARK BENNETT: HJR-3 referendum could draw voters off sidelines

Voters ages 18 to 29 could impact other races.

Most Hoo-siers skip a trip to the polls on midterm election day.

Statistics prove it. In fact, we’ve grown less and less inclined to vote in the midterms — as we call elections that are held two years before the next presidential election. Perhaps we’re too politically weary from the previous Oval Office campaigns to stomach deep study of candidates running for seats in Congress, the state Legislature or local offices. Maybe the public drama of a race for president is the only attraction strong enough to offset the cynicism or personal busyness that keeps so many Indiana residents from casting ballots.

Whatever the reason, a decreasing percentage of Hoosiers vote in non-presidential elections. In 1962, 70 percent of registered voters showed up. By 2002, it sank to 39 percent, and the midterm turnout levels haven’t risen much since.

This November could become an exception.

The ballot could include a referendum asking voters to decide whether to place a ban on same-sex marriage into the Indiana Constitution. State lawmakers are currently wrangling over the issue, known as HJR-3. If the Legislature approves the ban, the now-three-year process to amend the constitution enters its final step: the referendum on Nov. 4.

The presence of the high-profile referendum might inspire stay-home-on-midterm-election-day Hoosiers to cast a ballot. HJR-3 may be their main motivation for voting, but while they’re at it, those extra voters also would likely make choices in races for the U.S. House, the Indiana Senate and House, county sheriff and others. The extraordinary mix of voters might inject a dose of unpredictability into otherwise predictable races.

“It has the potential to do that,” said Andrew Downs, director of the nonpartisan Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics on the Indiana-Purdue at Fort Wayne campus.

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