Lack of voter turnout apalling

KPC News Service

Hoosiers should be upset about a statistic released recently: only 20.5 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots in Indiana’s Nov. 3 elections.

It gets even worse, when you consider that barely half of adult Hoosiers are registered to vote in the first place.

Do the math, and you come up with 11 percent of adult Hoosiers making the decisions about who will govern our cities and towns.

Local statistics for turnout of registered voters on Nov. 3 saw a 31.7 percent in Steuben County, 22.7 percent in DeKalb County and 19.9 percent in Noble County.

You could give the excuse that this was an off-year election. Only voters who live in a city or town with an election this year or in a school corporation with a referendum — such as East Noble — were eligible to vote.

But we didn’t do much better in 2014. With state and county offices at stake, only 28.8 percent of Hoosiers voted last year — the worst rate in the nation, according to one report.

This year’s sorry turnout came in spite of Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson’s efforts to improve it. For the first time, her office conducted a voter outreach advertising campaign during a municipal election year.

Lawson said her office “harnessed the power of TV, radio, print, digital and social media to encourage Hoosiers to make their voices heard.” She pledged, “We will continue our campaign in 2016 to encourage voter participation.”

Lawson said she also will keep working to remove outdated voter registrations, so we’ll get more accurate statistics of voter turnout.

This year saw a record use of ePollBooks in Indiana, Lawson said. Thirty-six Indiana counties — including Noble and DeKalb — have made the switch to ePollBooks.

“County election officials are continuing to adopt technology to modernize elections. The new technologies of ePollBooks and vote centers make it easier for Hoosiers to cast their ballots,” Lawson said.

An ePollBook scans a bar code on the back of a voter’s driver’s license to help poll workers efficiently find the voter’s record and to ensure the voter gets the correct ballot. It can speed up lines at polling places, because poll workers don’t have to hunt for names on a paper list.

Lawson also supports vote centers, which she says “have the potential to significantly improve efficiency and reduce county election costs.” Twenty-three counties — including Noble — used vote centers this year. Vote centers permit a voting at any location within a county, rather than only at the voter’s home precinct. Lawson says they save on costs of hiring poll workers and buying voting machines.

Despite all those advances, voter turnout across Indiana still looked dismal this month.

State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, thinks Indiana can do even more to make voting convenient. She’s introducing a bill to keep polls open longer, move early satellite voting locations outside the county clerk’s office and allow Hoosiers to mail in their ballots and register quickly on Election Day. Tallian also wants to study the possibility of online voting.

We especially support Tallian’s call to keep polls open longer on Election Day. Indiana shares the nation’s earliest poll-closing time of 6 p.m. with only two other states. Indiana also ranks in a minority of states that allow only 12 hours for voting. A total of 29 states allow 13 hours or more.

All those states that stay open later and longer for voting can’t be wrong — because all of them are beating us in voter turnout.

But then, it’s easy to do better than 20 percent — and that’s why Indiana should make a serious effort to get out of last place in voting statistics.