INDIANAPOLIS – Despite high rates of community participation and volunteerism, Indiana consistently ranks in the bottom 10 nationally in voter turnout, according to the organizations behind the Indiana Civic Health Index.
“Each of the four times we’ve had this ... the answer as to why we don’t have people showing up to the polls or early voting is really a mystery,” said Greg Zoeller, a former state attorney general. “I’m glad to see that we’ve got an action step to try to address it.”
In the 2016 presidential election, 58.3% of eligible Hoosiers voted vs. the 61.4% national average. In the 2018 midterm, less than half, 49.3%, of eligible Hoosiers voted while the national average stood at 53.4%.
After eight years of analyzing Hoosiers’ civic health over four installments, the 2019 Indiana Civic Health Index group has drafted two recommendations for increasing voter registration and turnout for the 2020 election.
Zoeller, former Congressman Lee Hamilton, former Chief Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court Randall Shepard, attorney Bill Moreau and Charles Dunlap, executive director of the Indiana Bar Foundation, presented findings Monday at Indiana University-Purdue University’s Indianapolis School of Law.
The report suggests creating a civic education task force to study and create recommendations for improved voter participation, paired with a goal to move Indiana from the bottom 10 states to the top 10 states for voter turnout.
“Our focus on is to start after the new year (and) pull together a task force of people who are interested in looking at this,” Dunlap said. “One of the things we’ve seen time and time again is that the higher the education, the better the civic index numbers appear.”
Though the report broke down data by area types (urban, suburban and rural) and age groups, the data didn’t differentiate between geographical areas of the state or ethnic groups.
“Some of the data is harder to get than others,” Dunlap said. “One of the things that we’ve seen, as far as civic education goes, it’s a great unifier and a great equalizer. If you have socially, economically disadvantaged groups, they’re equally impacted by a quality civic education. ... That’s one of the reasons, again, that we’re focusing on civic education.”
Moreau, nearing retirement from the law firm Barnes & Thornburg, recently established the Indiana Citizen Education Foundation, which aims to take a nonpartisan approach to voter education.
“Moving Indiana from the bottom 10 of states for turnout to the top 10 of states for turnout will require an increase of about 20%, half a million voters in 2020,” Moreau said. “So there will have to be a really, really concerted communications effort — indeed, an advertising campaign is the way to think about it — to encourage Hoosiers.”
Moreau’s foundation has a “work in progress” website, indianacitizen.org, aimed to educate voters about candidates in a “reliable and unbiased” manner. Hoosiers can enter their address on the website and can click on candidates’ profiles to learn more.
“None of the (non-voting Hoosiers targeted for messaging) are in this room,” Moreau said to attendees.”That’s a really daunting challenge: People who are the most involved need to communicate to those who are the least involved.”
Not all of the findings in the report are grim. Indiana voter participation is stronger, relative to national averages, in local races.
“Indiana has slightly better turnout during local elections than other places in the country,” Shepard noted. “The notion of better voting at the local level is consistent with neighborhood commitment and volunteering or belonging to clubs.”
For a full version of the report and more information, visit inbf.org.