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home : most recent : region 4 September 24, 2017


8/30/2017 12:09:00 PM
Top Indiana election official: Reform hasn't lured non-voters to the polls

Scott L. Miley, Herald Bulletin CNHI Statehouse Bureau

INDIANAPOLIS — An effort to reform Indiana election laws hasn't spurred a larger percentage of infrequent voters to go to the polls, Secretary of State Connie Lawson said Wednesday.

Turnout of registered voters for the 2016 general election was 58 percent, said Lawson, who is the state's chief election officer. When taking into consideration a recent statewide purge of more than 481,000 outdated or inaccurate voter records, that rate is consistent with previous elections, she said.

About 65 percent of Indiana's registered voters turned out for the 2008 election, the first following Indiana's requirement that voters show a government-issued photo ID at the polls.

Indiana election reform over the years has included allowing voters to register by mail and through the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, extended hours at voter registration sites and established vote centers in 30 counties.

"It doesn't affect infrequent voters like we thought it would," Lawson said.

"It's the candidates and issues that drive the turnout," she added.

Lawson said 2,807,676 Hoosiers voted in the 2016 general election.

Lawson was first to present election data to an interim study committee at the Statehouse. The panel of legislators is looking at the impacts of election reform on voter turnout from 2000 to 2016.

The Indiana Elections Division said efforts have been made to explain the voting process and registration in high schools.

While vote centers make it more convenient to cast ballots, there hasn't been an increase in turnout, officials said. Negative factors include long lines at the polls and transportation.

However, Lawson, a Republican, said there was "no correlation" between turnout and expanding opportunities for early voting opportunities.

"Frequent voters will vote. Early voting affects them more, it affects when they vote. What affects the infrequent voter is the convenience of voting on Election Day," she said.

That issue has been contested as The Indianapolis Star found that state and local Republicans expanded early voting in GOP-dominated areas and restricted opportunities in Democratic areas.

Lawson's comments drew criticism from Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody.

"The facts are clear. In Hamilton County, where Hoosiers enjoy expanded early voting options, a higher percentage of people voted early, and overall turnout was more than 15 points higher than in Marion County during the 2016 election," Zody said in a statement.

"Lawson is either overlooking the obvious or she’s providing cover for Republicans who continue to play politics with early voting. If there’s no correlation, as Secretary Lawson suggests, why are places like Hamilton County expanding locations? Convenience. Every Hoosier voter deserves that option, not just those residing in Republican areas," Zody said.

States can bolster voter interest by changing the date of municipal elections or placing issues on a ballot, said Wendy Underhill of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

A 2014 report by the General Accounting Office looked at voter identification laws. Of 10 reports examined, five showed an increase in turnout, four showed a decrease and one showed no impact from such laws, Underhill said.

In Illinois, Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, recently signed a measure allowing automatic voter registration, a law that followed concerns over voter fraud but also was an effort to boost public participation.

Under the Illinois measure, eligible individuals will be automatically registered unless they opt out when they visit secretary of state offices for drivers license services and other state agencies. The measure had wide bipartisan support in the Democrat-majority Legislature.

Related Stories:
• Lawsuit: Indiana voting lists will be improperly purged
• Indiana Election Commission again fails to OK Lake County precinct consolidation
• EDITORIAL: Moving forward on voter registration; Illinois sets example
• EDITORIAL: Federal election commission a waste of time

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