Indiana lawmakers are being asked again this year to change the law to make it easier for voters to cast their ballots on Election Day.
Rep. Tim Wesco of House District 21 in northern Indiana has proposed that polling be extended on Election Day to 8 p.m. from the current 6 p.m. The extra two hours would allow voters more flexibility in getting to the polls, a particular benefit to those who have work or child-care commitments during traditional daytime hours.
It’s far from a revolutionary idea. Most states took this step long ago. Indiana is one of only three states that close polls at 6 p.m. on Election Day.
Extending the voting day by two hours is one of several proposals that have been routinely introduced in recent sessions of the General Assembly. The difference this year is that it was introduced by a Republican. Wesco’s bill has been assigned to committee, where it’s under review.
Extending polling hours on Election Day is a voter-friendly idea that could help Indiana improve on its dismal voter turnout, which has been among the country’s lowest in recent elections. Still, it is meeting resistance, mostly from those who are skeptical of claims it would improve turnout or are concerned it could drive up the cost of elections.
While keeping polls open an extra two hours on Election Day is unlikely to turn Indiana into a bastion of voter participation, it is an idea with merit that should become law. The potential benefits outweigh the minor costs.
A more aggressive idea worthy of consideration would permit Hoosiers to go to a polling place, register and vote at the same time. Known as “same-day voter registration,” the system is used in almost two dozen states, including Michigan and Illinois. Organizations that study voter behavior estimate that states adopting the system generally see turnouts increase by an average of 5%.
Indiana’s century-old election law requires residents to register to vote — or change a registration — 29 days before an election. The law slams the door on anyone who isn’t tuned in to an election until late in the process.
Like longer voting hours at the polls, same-day registration is becoming the norm across the country. Meanwhile, Indiana lags far behind on both counts.
Extending Election Day voting hours is a good place to start. We encourage lawmakers to adopt that change. Voters deserve more access to the process, and the state has a long way to go to serve that need.
Tribune-Star, Terre Haute