Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Low Turnout and the Need to Move Municipal Elections to the Mid-Term Election Year

Yesterday, turnout reached a record low in Marion County, Indiana for a municipal election.  It may be un-American to admit it, but I'm not terribly troubled by that.

Official turnout in yesterday's municipal primary was 7.39%, higher than 2007 when it was 6.5%.  However, as I've noted before, official turnout can be deceiving.  It is measured by comparing the number who vote against the number of registered voters.  The percentage of registered voters has skyrocketed the past two decades, an increase from 69% to 93%, an increase due almost entirely to a failure of Indiana officials to keep the voting rolls clean of deceased voters and those voters who have moved and are registered at multiple addresses.  In fact, Indiana officials are so poor at keep the voting rolls clean of ineligible voters that they have been sued for that failure.   In recent years, Marion County has done some cleaning up of its voter registration records which has lowered the number of registered voters.    In short, the better measure is to compare number of voters to the adult population.  When you do that, in 2015, that makes real turnout in Marion County is 7.0% while turnout in 2007 was 7.4%.
because automatic purges for non-voting have been eliminated and the rolls bloated with voters who have died and who have moved and are registered at more than one location.   Indiana is one of the worst states in cleaning up its voter registration roles which is why election officials here

I find it interesting that when you ask some activists why they think turnout in Indiana is down, invariably they cite to factors such as:
  • Polls in Indiana close the earliest in the nation (6 pm)
  • Gerrymandering
  • Lack of early voting options
  • Indiana doesn't allow same day registration
  • Indiana requires you to declare your party in primary
Of course, because none of these are changes, you can't cite them as cause for the supposed decrease in voting. 

I became very active in party politics in 1986.  Back then you had to be registered by an official registrar appointed by one of the major political parties...or go downtown to register.  Today, you can register on-line or while visiting the BMV.  In 1986, there was no option to vote early.  Now you can vote early, without even having an excuse.  Early voting options may not be as convenient as some would like, but there is early voting while there wasn't that option before.

But critics do point to one actual change in the law as suppressing the vote, i.e. Indiana's adoption of a photo identification requirement, which they claim is the "most restrictive" identification requirement in the country.  Supposedly this has led to a tens if not hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers not being able to vote.  Yet opponents of the law, almost exclusively Democrats, never can seem to find more than a handful of these disenfranchised citizens.  Also, you have that sticky fact that turnout has not decreased in presidential and mid-term elections since Indiana adopted the photo ID requirement.

The bottom line is that registering and voting is easier than it has ever been.  If people are not voting, it is because there are few, if any, competitive races on the ballot.  Indiana officials would be wise to move municipal elections to the mid-term election years.  Elections are expensive enough to run.  We don't need to have municipal elections in a separate year during when there is, quite understandably, little voter participation.


LamLawIndy said...

How about eliminating the current primary system (which are INTRA-party contests paid for by the taxpayer) & require the parties to pay for their own contests (primary, caucus, convention)

Greg Wright said...

Paul, What are your City Council predictions beyond this primary?

Paul K. Ogden said...

Greg, my guess is Democrats will easily win a majority of the council seats. My guess is it will be about 15-10 Democratic majority, though it might turn out worse for Republicans. Hogsett will probably get about 57% of the vote or so. 57-43, though the Libertarian will drain off some votes from both camps.

Anonymous said...

I agree with LamLaw, the parties should either be required to fund their own contests, or we just have everyone in the November contest, making it a slug fest.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Regarding the parties funding their own primaries, parties wouldn't use primaries to nominate candidates if they wouldn't have been demanded by the public as a reform to stem party corruption. If you want the nomination process to look like Marion County's corrupt slating process, take away public funding for primaries so the candidates are selected at rigged party conventions. (You can forget getting independent minded candidates like Christine Scales.) I think public funding of primaries is one of the best expenditures of tax dollars thee is. It's a small price to pay to provide some protection for voters from the excesses of party bosses who would otherwise be picking our elected officials.