An opportunity to learn more about a redistricting reform effort in Indiana and contribute to that effort will take place soon. Check the link below and a guest column by Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause Indiana for more information.
Commentary: Put the Power Back Where it Belongs
By John Krull
INDIANAPOLIS – The documentary “Uncivil War” doesn’t tell a pretty story.
It focuses on all the ways politicians and other unscrupulous political players work to repress and distort the will of the people. It explores the ugly worlds of gerrymandering, voter suppression, and other bits of electoral skullduggery.
The documentary pays particular attention to three states – Maryland, Mississippi and … Indiana.
That our state is part of this dubious discussion should not be a surprise.
Indiana is one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation. It also has one of the most restrictive voter I.D. laws in America.
This determined campaign to discourage people from voting – or from thinking that voting even matters – has had an effect.
As the documentary points out, in one recent election year when all 100 seats in the Indiana House of Representatives were up, only 56 of the races were contested. The other 44 had only one major party candidate listed on the ballot – which meant that the voters didn’t have a choice.
The voters’ apathy revealed as much.
Most years, Indiana voter turnout is among the worst in the nation. Some years, it is the worst in the nation.
One year, the documentary reveals, Hoosier voter turnout was below that of Puerto Rico, putting us 51st in America.
Those numbers are bad, but they don’t tell the whole story.
They don’t show what this wholesale disregard of voters’ worth and intentions does to the process of self-government.
It isn’t a coincidence that the years when Indiana has emerged as one of the most voter-hostile states were also Hoosier state government also became among the most dysfunctional in the nation.
The reason for that is obvious.
Gerrymandering rewards the candidates who are the most partisan and the most ideologically rigid. They are the least likely to be open to others’ ideas or to show consideration for values and interests that are not their own.
At its heart, government in a free society is supposed to be a mechanism for resolving differences and balancing interests.
But, when we elect people who have neither the skill nor any desire to accommodate varying points of view, then we see a government that doesn’t work.
That certainly has been the case here in Indiana in the past decade.
Time and again, we have seen state lawmakers split the state over issues that had little or no impact on the lives of most Hoosiers – often for reasons that made no sense at all.
Perhaps the most egregious example was the nonsensical fight over amending the Indiana constitution to ban same-sex unions.
Our leaders charged ahead with that ill-considered notion even though the U.S. Supreme Court was indicating at the time that it soon would rule on the constitutionality of banning gay marriages.
Either way the court went on the question, it would have made Indiana’s fight pointless.
If the Supreme Court had ruled that state bans on same-sex unions were constitutional, then Indiana’s existing law prohibiting marriages between people of the same gender would have stood and no constitutional amendment would have been necessary.
And, should the Supreme Court decide – as it did – that gay marriage should be legal and constitutionally protected, then nothing the Indiana state government said or did was going to make any difference.
That reality didn’t give our leaders any pause at all.
Instead, they set Hoosiers at each other’s throats. They did so not just because they have no idea how to broker deals and resolve differences – but because they prefer fights to solutions.
This is not a partisan indictment.
As the documentary makes clear, Democrats in Maryland have done in their state what Republicans have done in Indiana. (You can view the documentary here: https://www.facebook.com/events/573023663616945/.)
That’s the moral to this story – one that fire-breathing partisans on either side of the divide always miss.
No political party should be entrusted with unchecked authority. Both Republicans and Democrats will abuse their powers if they’re given half a chance to do so.
Our state and our nation face many challenges.
We’re not going to be able to meet them unless we bring the power back where it belongs.
With the people.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.
Commentary: Voter Suppression in Indiana
By Julia Vaughn
Special to TheStatehouseFile.com
Although we are still months away from the general election in November, certain political operatives in Washington, D.C. and across the country are busy working to impact voter turnout. Unfortunately, these people are not focused on increasing the number of Americans who cast their ballot; they are planning a systematic effort to suppress the vote and their targets are those voters already at risk of being disenfranchised: people of color, low-income citizens and the disabled.
The good news is that organizations like Common Cause Indiana and our allies in the All IN for Democracy coalition are also gearing up for the November election. We are working to educate the public about the many forms voter suppression can take because before we can address it, we have to identify it. That’s why we are excited to announce the virtual premiere of a new documentary that not only exposes voter suppression but also champions efforts to combat it, including our own effort here in Indiana to end partisan gerrymandering.
The documentary Uncivil War was directed by Richmond, Indiana, native Tom Glynn and produced by the Bertelsman Foundation. The film examines our system of government and lays bare the risks facing our democracy. From disinformation campaigns to restrictive voter ID laws and gerrymandering, Uncivil War makes it clear that voters in Indiana, and across the country, are vulnerable to these attacks.
We were planning a big event in March to host the premiere screening of Uncivil War in Indiana. Then, the pandemic hit. So, we’ve decided to hold the premiere screening as a virtual event to enable Hoosiers across the state to access this important film about an issue with which we are all too familiar. To make a reservation for the screening, go to www.allinfordemocracy.org.
From the most restrictive voter ID law in the country to attempts to purge voters without notice, Indiana has a long history of using election laws and administration to suppress turnout in certain communities. Research by credible institutions shows that both voter ID and voter list purging disproportionally impact voters of color.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 25 percent of African-Americans lack a government-issued ID – the only permissible voter identification here in Indiana. And, purging voters from the rolls because of perceived duplications also impacts black and brown voters more than whites because of a prevalence of common surnames in ethnic communities.
But voter ID and purging aren’t the only tools in the voter suppression playbook; they are just some of the most obvious ones. More subtle but just as subversive tactics abound in our state. For example, numerous early and arbitrary deadlines prevent many voters from participating. For example, In Indiana, the cut-off date for voter registration comes a full 30 days before election day. And, if you need to vote by mail, that application must be made no less than twelve days before election day. Additionally, Indiana’s 12-hour election day is the shortest in the nation.
Common Cause Indiana went to court to stop overt voter suppression in Marion County when we sued the Election Board because one partisan member – the Republican – blocked early voting at satellite locations after President Obama won the popular vote here in 2008. Before our legal victory forced the change, Indiana’s largest and one of its most diverse counties had the fewest early voting opportunities.
But perhaps the most enduring form of voter suppression is gerrymandering: manipulating political districts to favor a political party, individual, or group. Gerrymandering is particularly pernicious because its impact is long-term – districts are in effect for a decade. And, because gerrymandering takes power away from voters and gives it to mapmakers, it removes one of the most important reasons that people vote.
People vote because they want their voices heard. They want a say in their community. They want to be recognized as an equal voice in the decision-making process we call elections. But gerrymandering silences many of us because we live in districts that were drawn to strongly favor one side over the other. So much so that in many areas of our state, the minority party doesn’t even bother to field a candidate. Giving voters who don’t support the incumbent no reason to show up is the ultimate voter suppression success story.
If you want to learn more about voter suppression and how we and others are working to stop it, please join us for the virtual premiere of Uncivil War. Register at www.allinfordemocracy.org.
Julia Vaughn is policy director of Common Cause Indiana.