Voting

In 2010, Indiana ranked 42nd in the nation for voter turnout and the state persistently has been among five states with the lowest midterm voter turnout from 2002 to 20014, along with New York, West Virginia, Mississippi and Texas.

In the 2014 midterm election, Indiana was dead last in the nation for voter turnout.

Just over 28 percent of the state’s eligible voters cast a ballot last year. In 2010, Indiana ranked 42nd in the nation for voter turnout and the state persistently has been among five states with the lowest midterm voter turnout from 2002 to 20014, along with New York, West Virginia, Mississippi and Texas.

“The last time Indiana was in the top 25 for voter turnout nationwide was in 1982,” said George Pillsbury, senior consultant for Nonprofit VOTE and author of the report “America Goes to the Polls 2014: A Report on Voter Turnout for the Midterm 2014 Election.”

The 2014 midterm marked the lowest national voter turnout since World War II, with just 36.6 percent of eligible Americans voting, down from the 42 percent who voted in 2010, according to the Nonprofit VOTE report. Voter turnout varied by state in 2014, with Maine leading the nation with 58.5 percent turnout, followed by Wisconsin at 56.8 percent and Colorado at 54.5 percent, according to the report.

Vigo County reflected Indiana in the 2014 midterm, with 28.5 percent voter turnout in the general election, but just 16.6 percent turnout in the primary election. In the 2010 midterm election, Vigo County voter turnout was 40.2 percent in the general election and 25.5 percent in the primary election.

Reasons for low turnout vary, but one reason impacting Indiana is its midterm elections do not have presidential or gubernatorial candidates, said Brian Miller, executive director of Nonprofit VOTE. “A lack of competitive races is one reason for low voter turnout,” Miller said.

The Boston-based Nonprofit VOTE was founded in 2005 by a consortium of state nonprofit associations and national nonprofit networks to provide resources and training for the nonprofit sector on how to conduct nonpartisan voter participation and election activities, according to the organization’s website.

The report states that midterm elections are consistently 15 to 25 points lower for turnout than in presidential years. The biggest drop, according to the report, is among voters under 40 “yielding a much older, less diverse electorate,” the report states. More than half the decline in votes between 2010 and 2014 came from four states: California, New York, Ohio, and Texas. None of those large, populous states had competitive elections in 2014, the report states.

Some other reasons, stated in the report, for not voting include 35 percent citing schedule conflicts with work and school; 34 percent said too busy, out of town or forgot to vote; 20 percent said they didn’t like the candidates, didn’t know enough or didn’t care; and 10 percent missed registration deadline, recently moved or had no transportation.

Miller, and the report, suggests that voter turnout can be reversed through election day registration, a method used in 10 states, plus the District of Columbia. That allows a qualified resident of the state to go to the polls on election day, register that day and then vote.

“Most people live busy lives and are juggling many things and do not educate themselves or are not focusing on the elections until weeks before the election,” Miller said. “But by that time, it is too late to get registered.” 

Most states require voters to register before an election. Indiana requires a voter to register 29 days prior to an election. Indiana county clerks must then offer at least one site to accept early voting, by casting an absentee ballot, 28 days prior to the election.

"Colorado is now third in the nation" for voter turnout, Pillsbury said. “A lot of that had to do with same-day registration. It is a system with a proven track record of 40 years. Maine, Minnesota and Wisconsin adopted it in 1974 and the next wave of states came in the 1990s.”

Yet Colorado, like the state of Washington, relies on mailing ballots. If a Colorado resident registers to vote by mail or online eight days before an election, a ballot is mailed to the voter. If a voter registers during a voter registration drive, that application must be submitted no later than 22 days before the election.

Any Colorado resident who wishes to register within seven days of the election or on election day must visit a voter service and polling center.

“I am all for more voter turnout, and I am not totally opposed to same-day registration, but I think it would really slow the process,” said Vigo County Clerk Dave Crockett. “If people really want to vote, in my opinion, there is plenty of time to register. They have six months between each election to register, but like a lot of other things, people wait until the last minute.”

Crockett said the county now offers vote centers that are open weeks before the election. It allows voters to cast an absentee ballot on their own time, instead of just on election day, the clerk said. Crockett said one method he suggests to increase voter turnout is to extend voting time by an hour, to 7 p.m., instead of 6 p.m., to allow more voters to get to voting sites after work.

Miller said vote centers, while a cost-saving measure and generally liked by voters, “just shifts when people vote. Election-day registration impacts voter turnout. A competitive election also impacts election turnout,” he said. The report shows that seven of the top 10 states in voter turnout use election-day registration. Those states are Maine, Wisconsin, Colorado, Minnesota, Iowa, New Hampshire and Montana. 

In addition, nine of the top 10 states with high voter turnout had competitive statewide races. None of the bottom 20 did, Miller said. Voter turnout averaged 11 points — 33 percent — higher in 22 states with competitive statewide races for governor, compared to states without such a race, the report states.

The America Goes to the Polls 2014 report is available at www.nonprofitvote.org/americagoestothepolls2014.

Howard Greninger can be reached at (812) 231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.

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