News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion Columns

October 7, 2012

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.

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

Seeing It

• 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

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Opinion Columns
  • RONN MOTT: Colonoscopy No. 5

    I just finished up my fifth colonoscopy last week. It had been seven years since my last one, and since my father and grandfather died of colon cancer I find it advisable to go through this procedure in attempting to live as long as I can.

    July 29, 2014

  • LIZ CIANCONE: Next century? Hope strikes out again for ‘our’ team

    It is a case of hope trumping experience that my Best Friend and I looked forward to the 2014 baseball season.

    July 28, 2014

  • baseballandnewspaper.jpg MARK BENNETT: Hall of Memories: Names, images of baseball greats trigger connections to our own past

    Baseball Hall of Famers are just people. Totally human. Still, for Americans who follow the national pastime, those players represent a nostalgic connection to summers gone by.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • RONN MOTT: The Czar of Russia

    If you are expecting Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Republic, to react to the crisis in the Ukraine as an ordinary elected official, think again. Even though Putin is the President of the Russian Republic, this is not the job he wants. Putin also doesn’t want to be the chairman of a newly resurrected Communist Party in Russia. No, what he wants is to be the czar of a greater Russia.

    July 24, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: Dragonfly

    The other morning I was moving the canister that holds our recycling material out to the curb when I saw a strange sight. What I saw was a dragonfly fighting with a bee.

    July 22, 2014

  • LIZ CIANCONE: Chickens as pets always turned out same way

    I suppose many of us who grew up on farms or in small towns adopted unusual pets. I had a fondness for chickens. My folks always kept a few chickens, not only to fry or roast, but also for the eggs.

    July 21, 2014

  • LovellEdwards.JPG MARK BENNETT: Former Terre Hautean Jim Lovell stood ready as Neil Armstrong’s backup on Apollo 11

    The words “Apollo 11” stir optimism in me.
    I was an elementary school kid growing up in Vigo County when Neil Armstrong put the first footprint on the moon on July 20, 1969. So much seemed possible

    July 20, 2014 1 Photo 4 Stories

  • RONN MOTT: World Cup over, but it was fun

    After many weeks and many games, the World Cup is over. While the world calls it “futbol,” only we in North America play another brand of football. It is very simple to understand why this is the world’s favorite game … all it takes is an empty lot, a round soccer ball, and you can get a futbol game together.

    July 18, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: Presidential Ambush

    No wild-west ambush, either real or fiction, has been as successful as the ambush on President Barack Obama.

    July 17, 2014

  • MET071614band.jpg MARK BENNETT: Are you ready for some oom-pah along the banks of the Wabash?

    Any time I hear Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly,” the sound transports me to 1973, when that classic song bubbled from my parents’ car radio on the drive to Sheridan Park for my youth football games.

    July 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • RONN MOTT: Collett Park

    Saturday at the Park, Collett Park, another beautiful wedding was held. They looked so nice in the warm weather with the Gazebo acting as church sanctuary, I would almost be tempted myself to do it again, and do it outdoors at the Park. No, no, no, not again, even as pretty as it is in the Park on a nice July Saturday.

    July 15, 2014

  • LIZ CIANCONE: Lots we did not have in those good ol’ days

    In my thankful moments, I’m glad I was not my grandmother’s daughter. I would miss the modern conveniences.

    July 14, 2014

  • wefight.jpg MARK BENNETT: Filmmaker captures late uncle’s walk through illness and into ‘whatever is next’

    Paul Fleschner sensed a remarkable strength as he filmed his beloved uncle one final time.

    July 12, 2014 2 Photos

  • RONN MOTT: Troubled history in that place called Iraq

    People are dying, again, in Iraq. And, again, people other than Iraqis will ultimately make the decision about what happens to this ancient land.

    July 11, 2014

  • Ronn Mott.jpg RONN MOTT: That Old Man River

    I was surprised to learn the people in Cairo are now taking water taxis to avoid the traffic, the confusion and the dangers that are appearing on Cairo, Egypt’s, streets. I mean, I was surprised the people in Cairo, these native Egyptians, were surprised they could take a water taxi and get to where they wanted to go using the Nile River as a highway. So, for the Egyptians living in Cairo, everything old is brand new again.

    July 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • RONN MOTT: Black Dog

    We had some excitement around our house the other day and it was not the good kind.
    There was a small dog, black in color with a spiked collar on his neck, and he was the spitting image of a small Doberman. I don’t know if they have miniature Dobermans but this dog could have been a mixed breed that came out looking like a Doberman although smaller.

    July 8, 2014

  • MS. TAKES: Great music is made during all generations

    Number Two son tells us that his 20-year-old son has been listening to “Big Band” music with apparent enjoyment. As if that wasn’t enough of a surprise, I was talking with a young girl, barely out of her teens and she told us that she really wasn’t into rap. She said, “It isn’t really music, it’s just talk.”

    July 7, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: Learning more about Jefferson

    During this Fourth of July weekend, I’ll be reading John Meacham’s biography of Thomas Jefferson.

    July 4, 2014

  • Ronn Mott.jpg RONN MOTT: The Men Who Made the Country

    The Fourth of July is the day we celebrate our independence from Great Britain. It reminds me of something David Ben-Gurion would say, at a much later date, about British rule: “If you have to have a master, the British are about as good at it as anybody.” Of course, we really don’t need a master.

    July 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronn Mott.jpg RONN MOTT: Cats

    Looking at the situation as a whole, the adopted cats, plus one, seem to be doing OK. The boys, Magic and Mellow, like to roam occasionally, which causes some consternation when they are gone for a long time.

    July 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • LIZ CIANCONE: Oldtime fans will never give up on the Cubbies

    My Best Friend claims to be the world’s oldest living Cubs fan. I am willing to take him at his word, but surely there is some long-lived fan out there in the right field bleachers who would dispute his claim.

    June 30, 2014

  • Ronn Mott.jpg RONN MOTT: These are tough times to be an opossum

    Who killed the opossum before man and the automobile? The automobile and mankind have started an evolutionary run on how the opossum continues his bloodline.

    June 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • RONN MOTT: These are tough times to be an opossum

    Who killed the opossum before man and the automobile? The automobile and mankind have started an evolutionary run on how the opossum continues his bloodline.

    June 27, 2014

  • Ronn Mott.jpg RONN MOTT: Teamwork

    Teamwork. You remember the drill. In the movie “Hoosiers,” the coach demanded four passes before anything else happened on the court. The idea of teamwork is you work toward a victory by making sure your self-interest doesn’t come before the team.

    June 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronn Mott.jpg RONN MOTT: World Cup

    I remember in junior high school, in physical education class, we were told to meet outside. The track and baseball diamond were in back of the school. We were met with a small, dimpled ball and the teacher told us it was soccer. It is played all over the world and you can use your head, your body and your feet, but not your hands. I decided then it was not a game for me.

    June 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • MS. TAKES: Words no one wants to hear: ‘At your age’

    The other evening, a friend limped into the dining room. Judging from the grimace, she was in some degree of pain, so I asked if she had fallen.

    June 23, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: Great effort brings rewards

    I want to tip my hat to young David Fuson who has become the spokesperson for the family business.

    June 20, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: Iraq, again

    Mohammad, the prophet of Islam, lifted into Heaven on a rock, on a hill, in Jerusalem. The binding of military might and strategies, and a religion that was meant for everyone, began to fall apart at that time in history.

    June 19, 2014

  • Ronn Mott.jpg RONN MOTT: The Stanley Cup

    I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy, a proud American who wants to see the USA win just about everything — except the Stanley Cup.

    June 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • LIZ CIANCONE: Son has a knack for rescuing lost birds

    I think the excitement of last week is over — for now. It all began when Number One son opened the door to a storage area and found a small bird, very much alive. Because my family likes to talk in a soothing voice to all animals, Number One assured the little guy that he was not to worry. “I’ll take you back outside so you can find your family.” Oddly enough, the little bird calmed down and sat quietly in our son’s hand until he put it down outside.

    June 17, 2014

Latest News Poll
AP Video
Raw: 2 Shells Hit Fuel Tank at Gaza Power Plant Giant Ketchup Bottle Water Tower Up for Sale Kerry: Humanitarian Cease-fire Efforts Continue Raw: Massive Explosions From Airstrikes in Gaza Raw: Massive Dust Storm Covers Phoenix Mother of 2 Makes NFL Cheerleading Squad at 40 Judge OKs Record-setting $2B Sale of Clipper Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating Raw: Shipwrecked Concordia Completes Last Voyage Easier Nuclear Construction Promises Fall Short Raw: Corruption Trial Begins for Former Va Gov. Trial Begins Over OKC Bombing Video Looming Demand Could Undercut Flight Safety Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming UN Security Council Calls for Gaza Cease-fire Israel, Hamas Trade Fire Despite Truce in Gaza Suspect Dead, Marshals and Cop Wounded in NYC 13 Struck by Lightning on Calif. Beach Raw: Airstrike Shatters Fragile Calm in Gaza
NDN Video
'Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1' Sneak Peek NOW TRENDING: Peyton Manning dancing at practice Golden Sisters on '50 Shades' trailer: 'Look At That Chest!' Chapter Two: Designing for Naomi Watts "The Bachelorette" Makes Her Decision Thieves pick the wrong gas station to rob Staten Island Man's Emotional Dunk Over NYPD Car - @TheBuzzeronFOX GMA: Dog passes out from excitment to see owner Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted Florida Keys Webcam Captures Turtles Hatching Morgan Freeman Sucks Down Helium on 'Tonight Show' Robin Wright Can Dance! (WATCH) She's Back! See Paris Hilton's New Carl's Jr. Ad Big Weekend For Atlanta Braves In Cooperstown - @TheBuzzeronFox Chapter Two: Becoming a first-time director What's Got Jack Black Freaking Out at Comic-Con? Doctors Remove 232 Teeth From Teen's Mouth Bradley Cooper Explains His Voice in 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Deja vu: Another NYPD officer choke-holding a suspect 'Fifty Shades of Grey': Watch the Super Sexy First Trailer Now!

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -


    March 12, 2010