News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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October 15, 2012

State of the Statehouse: Don’t disengage as election countdown is upon us

INDIANAPOLIS — To make sure I could vote in the November election and not fail the standards set by Indiana’s voter I.D. law, I took a trip to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles a couple weeks ago to get a new license with my most current address on it.

I had moved this summer and had forgotten to make the change. (Updating your address is one of the things you can’t do online at the BMV.) A press release from the Indiana Secretary of State’s office, about the Oct. 9 voter registration deadline, prompted me to make the trip to the closest BMV.

It was inconvenient and I whined about it, but it wasn’t too burdensome. I have a car and the BMV branch was just a few miles away.

I would have complained more if I didn’t have easy access to the computer-generated documents with my new address required to make the change, or if I was car-less. Indianapolis, where I live, has a meager bus transportation system and there’s only one BMV branch near the downtown area where I work and live.

Those of you who live in rural counties, with only one or two BMV branches for the whole county and little or no bus transportation, know much better than I do what it means to have to make a trip to the BMV.

This is not a criticism of Indiana’s voter I.D. law, which requires me to show a government-issued photo I.D. when I show up to vote.

That’s a more complicated issue for another column — one in which I would have to cite academic studies that have found strict voter ID laws like the one Indiana pioneered in 2005 (and now mimicked by other states) reduce turnout of registered voters, especially among the poor and minorities.

But then I’d also need to explain how it is that voter turnout in Indiana actually went up, from 54.8 percent to 59.1 percent, between the 2004 and 2008 presidential election (when Indiana turned “blue” for Obama.)

My small story is just an acknowledgement of the challenges voters face to stay engaged. There are plenty of others, including the coming tidal wave of TV commercials that will be broadcast by political campaigns over these next few weeks.

The hundreds of thousands of television commercials broadcast by the presidential candidates so far are lopsidedly negative, according to CMAG, an advertising tracking unit at the analysis firm Kantar Media. That’s even more true of the TV commercials run by the outside “super PAC” groups: Those commercials are negative more than 90 percent of the time.

It happens at almost all levels: Last week, I received an email from an organization endorsing state legislative candidates. It called the ones it liked “taxpayer friendly.” It called the ones it didn’t like “political hogs.”

It’s easy to feel repulsed by it and to decide simply to disengage. If you’re feeling that way, I’ll hope you’ll reconsider.

Maybe it helps not to romanticize the past. The much-heralded Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 — which propelled little-known Senate candidate Abe Lincoln toward fame — had plenty of rough-and-tumble exchanges, including one in which Lincoln called his opponent, Stephen Douglas, an “obstinate animal.”  

No big deal, really, since Lincoln added: “I mean no disrespect.”

Maureen Hayden is the Indiana Statehouse bureau chief for CNHI, the parent company of the Tribune-Star. She can be reached at

maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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