TERRE HAUTE —
As America prepares to choose its governmental leaders, voters are being relentlessly asked how much they trust elected officials.
An equally important question would be, how much do elected officials trust Americans as voters?
A glance at the uneven patchwork of election laws across the nation makes you wonder whether trust in the people is greater in some places than others.
Maine allows incarcerated felons to vote. Felony inmates in Indiana regain their voting rights after being released from prison. Florida requires freed felons to petition the state to become eligible again.
Indiana ceases its voter registration 29 days before the election. (Tuesday is the deadline.) Connecticut ends registration the day before the election. Minnesota and Iowa let voters register on Election Day. North Dakota doesn’t even require voters to register.
Polls close at 6 p.m. in Indiana and Kentucky. Iowans and New Yorkers have until 9 p.m. to get to a voting booth.
Then there are the voter-ID laws. Those policies require people to present photo identification before being allowed to vote, and were enacted by state legislators in Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee and, yes, Indiana. Lawmakers in other states have seen their attempts to impose photo-ID restrictions on voters blocked or stalled in court. Those rules have been challenged as unnecessary, politically motivated obstacles to voting for the poor, elderly and disabled who, unlike other Americans, don’t already possess a voting-approved, state-issued driver’s license. Supporters of voter-ID assert that the regulations prevent voter fraud, but struggle to provide significant evidence that impersonation at the polls exists.
Does that sound as if the lawmakers fully trust the concept of “every American citizen has the right to vote”?
Which brings us to the U.S. Constitution. The landmark document contains several amendments that protect the voting rights of various segments of the population from discrimination. Yet, the Founding Fathers did not explicitly outline voter qualifications, and left that determination up to the states. Thus, there are 13,000 different election jurisdictions — all with varying policies and practices — in the U.S.
The situation led a team of filmmakers to create a nonpartisan, but irreverent, 90-minute documentary, “Electoral Dysfunction,” to be broadcast on PBS this month. The camera crew and host Mo Rocca (correspondent for “CBS Sunday Morning” and formerly “The Daily Show”) came to Indiana, “which has some of the strictest voting laws in the country.” The state served as a microcosm of America’s electoral disparities.
“Indiana certainly emerged as a fascinating laboratory, or case study, to look at a myriad of voting issues,” Bennett Singer, a writer, director and producer of the documentary, said by telephone last week from New York.
“Electoral Dysfunction” doesn’t take sides politically. It does illuminate Indiana’s share of quirks and illogical policies that are present in other states, being implemented by principled, well-meaning, hospitable Hoosiers. “The warmth of the people was astonishing,” Singer said.
The film zeroes in on folks in two southern Indiana counties, Jennings and Ripley — through the eyes of two politically passionate locals — a Democrat, and a Republican. The outcome is enlightening, whichever side of the fence a viewer occupies.
“Whether you’re conservative, liberal or in the middle, you’ll learn something,” said Dee Dee Benkie, the Republican featured in “Electoral Dysfunction.” Speaking by cellphone Friday, Benkie — active in the national GOP and a familiar face on Fox News — emphasized that she whole-heartedly supports the voter-ID law, and thinks all states should follow Indiana’s lead. Benkie thinks a photo ID should also be required to vote absentee, which is currently not the case here and seemingly contradicts the premise of the in-person voter-ID standard.
The peculiarities don’t end there.
With Rocca guiding humorous, but informative interviews, other shortcomings of the voter-ID law unfold.
Proponents explain that people who don’t have the necessary state-issued photo-ID can get one, free of charge, at Bureau of Motor Vehicles branches. To get that free ID, a would-be voter will need a birth certificate, Erin Kelley — an officer for the League of Women Voters of Indianapolis — points out in the film. In Marion County, Kelley explains, that person would need to go to the Health Department and pay $12 for the birth certificate. That certificate also must be stamped by a notary public, who must indicate on the form that the applicant presented either a valid Indiana driver’s license, a valid state-issued ID, a military ID, or a passport. Any of those forms of identification would make the pursuit of the birth certificate unnecessary.
“So it’s kind of a ‘Catch-22?’” Rocca asks Kelley.
“Yes,” she answers.
Last week, by telephone from Indianapolis, Kelley challenged the voter-ID’s burden on women.
If the name on that birth certificate is different from the legal name of the voter seeking the photo-ID, they’ll also need to bring along legal proof of a name change. A woman may need their marriage license, or a divorce decree. Men who have not changed their names would not. The law is “very skewed toward disenfranchising women,” Kelley said.
Such documentation is needed, said Dennis Rosebrough, BMV deputy commissioner, because “we have to prove how you went from ‘Smith’ to ‘Jones.’” Rosebrough, who is not in the film and spoke by telephone last week, said he has worked at the voting polls, separate from his BMV role, for 35 years. Since the 2005 passage of Indiana’s voter-ID law, Rosebrough said he has never seen a person at the polls unable to produce an ID card.
“This is just my personal observation, but I just don’t believe there is this mass of humanity who really wants to vote who can’t get an ID,” Rosebrough said.
The film lets viewers draw their own conclusions about not only Indiana’s voting laws, but also — as Rocca calls it — the “crazy quilt” of other laws around America, including the popular vote-trumping Electoral College. “Electoral Dysfunction” was screened at both the Republican and Democratic parties’ national conventions. It was well received at both, despite the prevailing perception that GOP-dominated state legislatures pushed voter-ID to suppress participation among typically Democratic groups, such as minorities, and the poor, elderly and disabled.
At the Republican convention in Tampa, “We had a very enthusiastic audience,” Singer said, “and a great discussion afterward. It was an example of people agreeing to disagree.”
The statistical realities stand on their own, though.
Fifty-million eligible voters in America are not registered. Indiana ranks 48th out of the 50 states in voter participation, according to the Indiana Civil Health Index, overseen by retired congressman Lee Hamilton and retired state Chief Justice Randall Shepard. In the 2010 election, just 39.4 percent of registered Hoosiers voted, well below the national average of 45.5 percent. Indiana ranks 43rd nationally in voter registration, at 61.2 percent.
The question is, are elected officials OK with that?
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
• The national PBS documentary “Electoral Dysfunction,” based on Indiana, will be broadcast on WTIU (Bloomington) at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28, and at 10 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1. Screenings of the film are also anticipated at selected college campuses around Indiana this month; check updates on that schedule online at www.electoraldysfunction.org.
MARK BENNETT: Upcoming PBS documentary focuses on nation’s voting irregularities, through Hoosier eyes
TERRE HAUTE —
As America prepares to choose its governmental leaders, voters are being relentlessly asked how much they trust elected officials.
- Opinion Columns
RONN MOTT: Cats, Inc.
I suppose we should give her a cake and a candle, but she would be happier with a handful of “treats” you can find wherever you shop for groceries. I’m talking about the two-year anniversary of the first cat we adopted. If we had known there were going to be more, her name probably would have been different. She was Orange Crush, a small, bedraggled, starving, Golden Tabby female that wandered into our yard a little after Thanksgiving. She had been badly maltreated.
MS. TAKES: Plenty of downsides to tree with candlelight
I had been spinning my wheels over Thanksgiving preparations the other day, so my Best Friend took me out for breakfast — a little luxury I never tire of. Our friend, Bill, stopped by our table to offer holiday felicitations and the conversation turned, as it often does this time of year, to Christmas.
LIZ CIANCONE: Plenty of downsides to tree with candlelight
I had been spinning my wheels over Thanksgiving preparations the other day, so my Best Friend took me out for breakfast — a little luxury I never tire of.
MARK BENNETT: ABA’s record proves Bobby Leonard’s a legit Hall of Famer
Bobby Leonard symbolized the feisty competitive flair of the old ABA.
RONN MOTT: Collett Park Christmas Walk always a special event
Since I live right across the street from Collett Park, I enjoy very much this particular neighborhood. And since I have walked around it a few times, I’m familiar with the 0.8 of a mile it takes to walk around the park. The Christmas Walk is a walk around the neighborhood. There were approximately 15 homes involved and open to the public this year
RONN MOTT: Rule Changes
Watching the beginning of a new basketball season reminds me of my attempt to play basketball in high school. On the B-team, at a township high school my freshman and sophomore years, I fouled out of a great many basketball games.
RONN MOTT: A Hornet’s Nest
I seem to have kicked over a hornet’s nest in my criticism of the American health care system.
The basic fact of the matter is this: We do not have, in America, the highest-rated health care system. We are not in the top 10, nor top 20, but somewhere in the middle 30s. Yet we pay more for our health care than any other nation in the world.
LIZ CIANCONE: Mourning a death is a personal exercise
One does not properly “celebrate” an assassination, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to be reminded that there are a lot of nuts out there. Coverage this past week of the anniversary of the Kennedy assassination still has the power to disturb, but all the theories won’t undo the facts.
MARK BENNETT: Letter from coach’s young daughter put pro sports, Christmas in perspective
Most of us sympathize with people forced to work on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
That list is growing, now that Black Friday has morphed into Black Thursday, causing retail employees to join doctors, nurses, hospital staffers, police, firefighters, emergency responders, military members, convenience store clerks, road crews and media to spend holidays at work. Ideally, we’ll feel gratitude when we require their services on those special days. Too often, their sacrificed time gets taken for granted.
Terry Leonard wanted the executives to remember her dad, and their family, at Christmastime.
And, amazingly, they listened.
THOMAS L. STEIGER: Cultural tendencies are what unite and divide us
For the last 10 days a story has been circulating on the Internet adapted from the original source in Tufts Magazine.
Ronn Mott: Memories of long ago Thanksgivings
Like many youngsters growing up in this part of Indiana, the holidays were always something full of good times and, of course, going to Grandma’s house.
RONN MOTT: I remember
Someone said the other day everyone remembers where they were the day John Kennedy was shot. I certainly do.
RONN MOTT: Too Much
I’ve been very fortunate, so far, in my lifetime. I’ve not been hit with any major disease that could, ultimately, kill me. I’ve only been under the knife twice and neither operation was life threatening … tonsils and a kidney stone too large to extract in a normal way.
LIZ CIANCONE: The greatest invention ever? Frozen orange juice
We were talking the other day and someone posed the question: “What do you think has been the greatest invention of all time?”
Larry’s Lessons: On a beautiful fall day at Hulman Center
I attended the unveiling of the Larry Bird statue on Saturday, Nov. 9, and found the proceedings to be wonderful.
RONN MOTT: 95th
Nov. 7, 1918, was a few days before the war to end all wars actually ended. It was 95 years ago. The last veteran who fought in that war has passed away. The growth America took after that war also has passed away and so did Prohibition, ending the sale of alcoholic drinks and giving birth to what became known as “organized crime.”
RONN MOTT: The Bully
The mess the Miami Dolphins find themselves in is a simple case of bullying. The man who would like to be rather “incognito,” Richie Incognito, is not. The entire world knows about him now and his bullying may have been sanctioned by his Miami Dolphins’ football team.
LIZ CIANCONE: Even mild forecast can give you the shivers
The local weather report the other evening included a bit of folklore. Our weather guru said that the story is that if snakes have not crawled off to winter quarters by late October, we were in for a mild winter.
MARK BENNETT: A degree of success
Determination to get that diploma Larry Bird’s deepest bond with fellow ISU alums, students
RONN MOTT: Obama ‘stubs toe’ — and worse — so far on Affordable Care Act
Abraham Lincoln, after losing the race for the available Senate seat (National Senate), was asked by a reporter how it felt. Mr. Lincoln said, “I feel like a sixteen-year-old boy who has just run across a field and stubbed his toe on a rock. It hurts too much to laugh and I’m too old to cry.” President Obama has run into a similar situation. He certainly has stubbed his toe on the rock of his administration, The Affordable Care Act.
RONN MOTT: ‘My team lost’
My team lost. The team I have been a fan of since 1946 lost the World Series.
I’m surprised they did as well as they did. The St. Louis Cardinals limped into the final seven games of baseball this year with perhaps the best young pitching staff, but everything else fell rather flat. Two power hitters and one was hurt early in the Series, which left only one power hitter … not enough to beat the booming Bosox.
RONN MOTT: ‘It's a job’
I was recently talking to Jim Meece, Republican Parke County commissioner and history teacher at Turkey Run High School. (WAXI 104.9) We talked about many things … one of them being Congress and what they’re supposed to do.
LIZ CIANCONE: Extra hour gives more time to reset all the clocks
At the risk of becoming a bore, I really hate daylight saving time.
MARK BENNETT: Brad Fenton and friends set dominos in motion to make Larry Bird statue a reality
The idea has been out there for awhile, floating.
Locals in the 1980s, ’90s and 2000s would say, “They need to put up a statue of Larry Bird. I mean, one of the all-time greatest basketball players played right here in Terre Haute at Indiana State University.”
RONN MOTT: Thoughts about the ‘Redskins’ controversy
I am not amused by the uproar for the Washington NFL team to stop calling themselves the “Redskins.” I think it is, frankly, much to do about nothing.
RONN MOTT: Confederate States of America
During the government shutdown a handful of veterans and a whole bunch of Tea Party activists picked up the fencing that blocked the WWII Memorial and dropped it in front of the White House. And then they began to wave the Confederate flag.
RONN MOTT: Hard Luck
If you want to know how smart the Tea Party has been, just read the headlines.
LIZ CIANCONE: Baseball’s cool days equal cold hard cash
I was driving to the grocery the other day and was startled when a few ice crystals rattled against the windshield.
MARK BENNETT: Next chapter set to begin
Use the classic Tommy Tutone song to memorize the following number …
RONN MOTT: Last day of the festival
I had just sat down in the WAXI booth when a lady came up to me and said that I had spelled "cruller" incorrectly in the article I wrote for the Tribune-Star. So, being of a very agile mind, I quipped that spelling it with a “K” was the German spelling of this treat. Of course, I had no idea if this cruller came from Germany, but it seemed the right thing to say at the time.
- More Opinion Columns Headlines
- RONN MOTT: Cats, Inc.