Make voting a ‘Hoosier value’

(Terre Haute) Tribune-Star

The phrase “Hoosier values” will be uttered frequently this year as Indiana politicians campaign for local, state and federal offices. Its definition can vary, but it typically refers to our reputation for exhibiting a strong work ethic, honesty, fairness, hospitality and civic responsibility.

Such a state should not rank last in America in voter participation, as it did in the 2014 midterm election. Nor should Indiana idly accept that dubious distinction going forward. It diminishes the genuineness of those values we proudly extol.

Two people representing Hoosiers in the General Assembly — Terre Haute’s Clyde Kersey and Portage’s Karen Tallian — are trying to modernize the state’s election laws so that more Indiana residents exercise the right to vote. Their effort faces an uphill battle for political reasons. They are Democrats — Kersey in the House, Tallian in the Senate. Republicans control both chambers of the Legislature with super majorities, so any legislation lacking their support is doomed.

If “Hoosier values” are real, though, their bills should be heard in the House and Senate, voted upon, reconciled and passed.

Kersey’s House Bill 1097 would allow eligible voters to register on Election Day and would change the poll closing time to 8 p.m. That action would bring Indiana into the 21st century by eliminating the current registration deadline (29 days before the election), and keep the polls open an extra two hours.

The 29-days-before-the-election registration cutoff dates back to 1913. Today, most people today don’t start paying attention to campaigns until that final month, and the unregistered (often the under-35 age group, and folks who’ve recently moved into Indiana) aren’t aware of the deadline until it has passed. Also, Indiana’s current 6 p.m. poll closing time is the nation’s earliest.

The existing registration deadline is wildly unnecessary. The state’s photo-ID law, created by the Republicans, and 2016-caliber technology make same-day registration doable. Kersey’s bill would let a first-timer fill out a registration form, affirming that person hasn’t already cast a ballot, provide proof of residence and their ID, and then vote. His bill would also extend evening poll hours (currently 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.), accommodating Hoosiers who work 12-hour shifts or drive to their children’s day care providers before and after work.

“A democracy works best when more people are involved,” Kersey said Thursday.

Tallian’s Senate Bill 135 is similar. It would give county election boards the option of extending poll hours to 8 p.m. and make it easier for that same board to establish satellite voting locations. Tallian’s bill goes a step beyond Kersey’s by granting automatic voter registration to Hoosiers when they apply for a new or renewed driver’s license or permit. Another Democrat, Indianapolis Rep. Melanie Wright, has authored a House bill that would also grant automatic voter registration to applicants for driver’s licenses and permits.

Tallian and Kersey both said they had heard their bills would not get a hearing; that should not be.

Aside from the grumblings of election officials who would have to cope with changes, there are no valid reasons to reject these proposals. If the Republican committee gatekeepers in the Legislature allow Kersey’s and Tallian’s bills to reach the floor, Kersey thinks they just might pass.

A robust turnout on Election Day should be a Hoosier value.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.