• Could 2016 be a libertarian moment? Maybe.

    I’ll preface this by saying that I am decidedly NOT a libertarian myself. So, I am by no means an expert or insider on the Libertarian Party or its supporters, and this piece is not an endorsement. I am merely an observer. But as an observer, I think there’s a real possibility the Libertarian Party could play a role in reshaping the political conversation during this election.

    For those unfamiliar with libertarianism, the short version is that it supports limited government and personal freedom. Some in the movement take that to mean practically no government, favoring, for instance, shutting down or privatizing all government agencies and public services. However, Libertarian Party Presidential candidate Gary Johnson (a former Republican governor of New Mexico) is currently describing it much more palatably as “fiscally conservative and socially liberal.”

    In the past, the Libertarian Party hasn’t been much more successful than your average third party, gaining a few seats in local governments but barely making a peep on the national stage (Johnson got just short of 1 percent of the Presidential vote in 2012, and that was the party's best showing ever). But if you’ve watched any of this Presidential campaign, you know that this is not like other election years.

    Donald Trump has proven to be  a divisive figure within the Republican Party. Several longtime Republican lawmakers and officials refuse to support him, and there’s apparently an effort to change the rules at the party’s convention next month to prevent him from gaining the nomination. Should those efforts fail, it’s not too much of a stretch to say a significant amount of Republican voters won’t vote for him, either.

    If those voters just don’t vote at all, the Republican Party can just write it off as a fluke election because of Trump. But if they were to all vote for another party, that could send a message that the GOP would be foolish to ignore.

    What message might that be? Well, if the appeal of libertarianism is that it’s “fiscally conservative and socially liberal,” then, perhaps, be socially liberal. Meaning, be inclusive, instead of appealing to the anti-LGBT, anti-immigrant crowd. Also, both libertarians and conservative Republicans claim to be for small government, but for libertarians, that also means towards things Republicans generally support, like military interventionism and the war on drugs.

    Now, this scenario makes a few big assumptions. The one that Trump will turn off a good amount of potential voters doesn’t seem too farfetched. Those voters rallying around Johnson, however, assumes that there is a sizable contingent of Republican voters who are, in fact, much more libertarian-leaning than their party leaders. I think there is. Maybe not the completely pure libertarianism that's against nearly all forms of government, but certainly the more inclusive, less militaristic and authoritarian variety.

    Maybe my assumptions about what will happen and what it’ll mean are wrong (again, I’m no expert). Still, Nate Silver, arguably the best name in polling today, suggested this weekend that Johnson could get a notable percentage of the vote in several states (including Indiana). So, the Libertarian Party’s performance is something to watch this year.

  • Don't forget to vote tomorrow!

    Tomorrow is Election Day. You might not have known that because the next Presidential election isn’t until next year, and we aren’t electing a governor or any members of Congress here in Indiana. Between that and the low turnout in our state, I’ll take it upon myself to remind you to get out and vote.

    If you didn’t know that there are elections tomorrow, I’m guessing you don’t know who or what we’re voting for, either. So, here’s a helpful little tool to let Indiana residents know what they will see on their specific ballot. There are still several hours left to do a bit of your own research to find out about the candidates and issues. The site can also help you check your registration status and find your polling place.

    If you’re not registered at the moment, well, it’s frankly too late to participate in the process this year due to Indiana's policies. So instead, take this opportunity to get registered, so you’ll be able to vote in next year’s Presidential primaries and election.

    I know some might be thinking, “Oh, these are just meaningless small town elections!”, or “What difference does it make if I vote? Both sides just argue and nothing ever gets done.” The latter statement might have some truth to it, at least at the federal level. But while Washington gridlock doesn’t look like it will end anytime soon, the small local elections are the ones that will matter in the long run. A policy idea or political movement can catch on at the local level, and if successful, can spread to other communities, then on to the state or even national level. With the astronomical amounts of money it costs to run a big campaign these days, the local level could be the only place where new ideas can really enter the conversation.

    I know, I’m sounding like a wide-eyed, idealistic character in an educational cartoon. But it’s true. Furthermore, the people who get elected govern both voters and nonvoters alike, so it’s in your best interest to vote for the candidate who would govern better.

    So, get registered if you’re not, and vote tomorrow if you are. Oh, and don’t forget to bring your driver’s license.

  • Early voting, same turnout

    The Midterm elections are next week, but if you live in Indiana, you can vote now. Maybe you have already.

    In our state, the polls actually open up four calendar weeks before Election Day. Many states have similar early voting periods, although most are shorter than Indiana’s. A good number of them also have an absentee ballot system in which residents can cast their vote by mail (Indiana does not have this).

    Ostensibly, early voting is held to give citizens plenty of time to cast their ballot. But does it actually increase turnout in states compared to states in which polls are only open on Election Day?

    The numbers say no.

    Historically, Presidential elections have a turnout rate somewhere between 50 or 60 percent, and Midterms around 40 percent. There are a few outlier states with higher turnout (though still in the 70s, not even close to full turnout), but generally each state’s turnout hovers around the total rate, regardless of what early voting systems they have. Indiana’s early voting period is on the longer side compared to many states, but turnout in the 2012 election was only 56 percent, ranked 40th among the 50 states and Washington, D.C.

    In the last Midterm, which saw a 42 percent turnout, most counties in Indiana actually saw more than that, in the higher 40s or even 50s. Lake County, however, only saw a 37 percent turnout. And that was actually a high point since the turn of the millennium, as the 2006 and 2002 Midterms didn’t even crack 30 percent.

    Speculations can be made as to why this is, but the numbers are a little pathetic.

    If you want to help raise that statistic this election, don't forget to vote next Tuesday. Or if you want to vote before then, here’s some information how.

  • Policy sets up Indiana for poor voter turnout

    Next month, voters in Indiana's cities and towns will go to the polls -- as long as they're already registered to vote.

    In Indiana, voter registration ends 29 days before an election, which is on the high end of advance registration requirements among states. Thirteen states currently offer same-day voter registration. As the map here shows, all those states had substantially higher voter turnout than Indiana in 2014.

    In fact, Hoosier voters turned out in historically low numbers in 2014, 28 percent, the lowest in the nation. That fact has led to questions about why voter apathy is so high and what can be done to remedy it.

    Some of those questions lead to the mechanics of getting to vote: early registration requirements, along with our 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. polling schedule, among the shortest in the nation.

    Other questions lead to the lack of competitive Congressional races. To the victor go the spoils, and Statehouse Republicans in the majority have drawn Congressional lines to favor GOP wins. Among the changes in 2011 was the shifting of Democratic-leaning Michigan City from the 2nd District to U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky's 1st District. Getting those voters out of the 2nd District helped Republican U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski win what had been a swing district in previous election cycles.

    And then there's Indiana's 2005 voter ID law, which has been the model of similar laws enacted in other states. Passed with the intent of preventing voter fraud, the law did nothing to address the proven voter fraud that occurred in Indiana. You'll remember the 2003 East Chicago mayoral primary between Robert Pastrick and George Pabey that was nullified due to rampant absentee ballot fraud. Whatever the intent of Voter ID, it doesn't help turnout numbers.

    If you want to increase voting, proven solutions are out there. Oregon, which had 70 percent voter turnout in 2014, holds all elections with mail-in ballots and recently passed a law to automatically register any adult that has had an interaction with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

    Public officials may pay lip service to promoting voter turnout, but public policy tells a different story. In Indiana, increasing the number of voters is just not a priority.

  • Power of incumbency can be a drag

    There's no better election night than one when you're an unopposed incumbent, right?

    Don't tell that to Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas.

    The Republican who will get a fourth term leading the city, was nonetheless disappointed by the results of Tuesday's municipal elections. What had once been an all-Republican City Council will be split between four Republicans and three Democrats.

    "The low voter turnout was a huge impact for us," Costas told Times reporter Rob Earnshaw. Indeed, turnout in Porter County barely topped 20 percent. With no mayor's race on the line, Costas' supporters may very well have stayed home, opening the door to the new Democratic faces. In this case, Costas would have been better off to have a Democratic challenger to stoke turnout on his side.

    The turnout in Porter County was heavy compared to Lake County's 15 percent and LaPorte County's 13 percent. It's the kind of turnout that usually spells good things for incumbents and Northwest Indiana's mayors enjoyed a stellar evening. Leaders in East Chicago, Gary, Hammond, Hobart, LaPorte and Michigan City all easily won re-election. East Chicago's Anthony Copeland and Hammond's Tom McDermott Jr. both had more than 90 percent of the vote. Crown Point's David Uran was unopposed. The one tight mayoral race was in Portage, where Republican Mayor James Snyder edged Democrat Brendan Clancy by just 225 votes. It was a hard-fought victory for Snyder in a city that leans Democratic.

    Uncompetitive or unopposed races aren't just a drag on voter turnout. In East Chicago, 3rd District Councilman Robert "Coop" Battle won his unopposed race from his cell in the Lake County Jail, accused of killing a man. John Cantrell, the attorney for Battle (who is also facing federal drug charges), said he was disappointed by calls for Battle to resign his council seat. Obviously, in Northwest Indiana, you're presumed re-elected until proven guilty.

    Finally, under the category of "every vote counts," just 37 Kouts voters were enough to give Democrat Nicole Markovich a one-vote victory over Republican Kevin Salyer for the at-large Town Council seat. Do you think there's a friend or family member of Salyer feeling guilty for staying home?

    Hopefully, for the vast majority of Region voters who stayed home, this guilts you enough to get you to show up for the 2016 primaries in May.

     

  • What Election Technology Will you See at the Polls?

    Local elections in northwest Indiana as well as the rest of the state are coming up and my question to you is not who you will be voting for this term, but what will you be voting on? Paper or screen?

    With everything moving to online correspondence, why does it seem like the voting system is not? If anything, it is moving in the opposite direction. Some states are no longer allowing absentee balloting or making more stringent requirements for absentee balloting. 

    But that is not to say balloting technology hasn’t advanced at all. It is quite the contrary. The balloting machines that you will see in the upcoming elections will have some very advanced features. The hope for these new balloting technologies is that a more secure and efficient system can be found for counting votes for elections. But as with anything associated with politics, these advanced technologies have brought their fair share of controversies.

    Some districts have moved to all digital balloting or Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) systems. But with the possibility of vote tampering being such a high concern, some districts still stick to the old paper ballots. Others will use Direct Recording Electronic voting systems that use a Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT). Those using completely the digital systems with no paper trails have drawn criticism from watchdog groups who fear that the all digital systems are impossible to verify. If an internal error occurs in the all digital machines, it is almost impossible to catch and correct the problem until it is too late.

    As with almost every technology, treading carefully is the best way to keep from compromising security. Security and accountability have always been at the forefront of balloting and the journey into new voting systems will magnify both.

  • What will 2016 bring The Region?

    government politics policy legislation

    Happy New Year!

    I did my “look back” piece for 2015 last week. Now that we’re in 2016, it’s time to look to the future.

    The predictions I made for the area going into last year were admittedly a little ambitious and starry-eyed (though they weren't entirely off). So this year, I’ll keep things a little more grounded.

    So, in 2016:

    • The Dunes pavilion liquor license controversywill drag on, but eventually, I wouldn’t be surprised if Pavilion Partners LLC gets their wish and is permitted to serve alcohol in their proposed banquet center.
    • The expansion project of the South Shore line will continue, though still slowly and incrementally. The average commuter won’t notice much difference this year, except maybe some riders bringing bikes on the weekend.
    • Our local steel industry will continue to face uncertainty in its balance act with the global market. I don’t really have more to add to this vague generality, but I wouldn’t be optimistic for a turnaround.
    • Governor Mike Pence looks quite vulnerable in this year’s election, but unless he pulls another major blunder like the RFRA, the race will still be close. It all might come down to voter turnout.
    • Unless the Republican nominee to succeed our retiring Senator Dan Coats turns out to be another Richard Mourdock (in either the no-compromise hardliner or foot-in-mouth respect), the GOP will probably retain the seat.
    • Illinois will continue to be dysfunctional, sending more residents and businesses our way. Our casinos can probably rest easy, for now.
    • The Cubs will win the World Series. The celebration will be short-lived, however, as this event will bring upon the Rapture, the zombie apocalypse, a meteor, an alien invasion and everything Bill Murray talked about in Ghostbusters.*

    *I should note that whenever I make sports predictions, I turn out to be wrong way more often than right. Go Sox!

  • Who's on the ballot tomorrow in Lake County?

    Tomorrow is the Indiana Primary, and it’s looking like our state will play a crucial part in the Presidential race for both parties. But while you’ve heard plenty (and then some) about the race for the White House at this point, don’t forget that we’re not just choosing Presidential nominees.

    We’ll also be selecting nominees for local, state, and federal offices tomorrow. Several candidates are unopposed, but there are some nominations that are yet to be decided. So, here’s a little refresher regarding who is running for what office in Lake County.

    If you declare as a Democrat tomorrow, here’s who you’ll see on the ballot:

    PRESIDENT

    • Hillary Clinton
    • Bernie Sanders

    UNITED STATES SENATOR

    • Baron Hill

    GOVERNOR

    • John R. Gregg

    UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE, DISTRICT 1:

    • Willie (Faithful and True) Brown
    • Peter L. Visclosky

    JUDGE OF THE CIRCUIT COURT

    • Carrie Castro
    • Marisa McDermott
    • George C. Para 

    COUNTY RECORDER

    • Terence Hill
    • Gregory J. Sanchez
    • Carl Ivy Weatherspoon, Jr.
    • Carolyn Jordan
    • Mike Brown

    COUNTY CORONER

    • Merrilee D. Frey
    • Phyllis V. Perkins
    • Samuel Smith, Jr.

    COUNTY SURVEYOR

    • Bill Emerson, Jr.

    For the following offices, it varies depending on which part part of Lake County in which you reside. If you're registered to vote, you can find your specific ballot here.

    STATE SENATOR

    • DISTRICT 2:
      • Lonnie M. Randolph
    • DIST. 3
      • Ethel Jeanette Williams
      • Eddie Melton
      • Darren L. Washington
      • Dave Spott

    STATE REPRESENTATIVE

    • DISTRICT 2
      • Rosa Maria (Rose) Rodriguez
      • Earl L. Harris, Jr.
      • Drake Morris
      • Tammi Davis
    • DISTRICT 1
      • Linda Lawson
    • DISTRICT 3
      • Antuwan Clemons
      • Charlie Brown
    • DISTRICT 11
      • James Metro
    • DISTRICT 12
      • Mara Candelaria Reardon
    • DISTRICT 14
      • Vernon G. Smith
    • DISTRICT 19
      • Shelli Vandenburgh

    COUNTY COMMISSIONER

    • DISTRICT 2
      • Gerry J. Scheub
    • DISTRICT 3
      • David Gonzalez
      • Richard L. Alyea
      • Dan Reed
      • Christine Cid
      • Michael C. Repay

    And now, the Republican ballot:

    PRESIDENT

    • Ted Cruz
    • Ben Carson
    • Chris Christie
    • Marco Rubio
    • Rand Paul
    • Jeb Bush
    • John R. Kasich
    • Donald J. Trump
    • Carly Fiorina

    Even though only Cruz, Kasich, and Trump are the only candidates still running, all nine are still on the ballot.

    UNITED STATES SENATOR

    • Todd Young
    • Marlin A. Stutzman

    GOVERNOR

    • Michael R. Pence

    JUDGE OF THE CIRCUIT COURT

    • Douglas M. Grimes

    COUNTY RECORDER

    • Joseph M. Ramos
    • Gerald Swets

    STATE REPRESENTATIVE

    • DISTRICT 11
      • Michael J. Aylesworth
    • DISTRICT 12
      • William I. (Bill) Fine
    • DISTRICT 15
      • Hal Slager
    • DISTRICT 19
      • Julie Olthoff

    COUNTY COMMISSIONER

    • DISTRICT 2
      • Jerry Tippy
      • Daniel C. Langmesser
      • Eldon Strong
    • DISTRICT 3
      • Mark J. Leyva

    So, there you have it. Take a little time in the hours left before the polls open tomorrow morning and study up on these candidates you might not have heard of until now. And don't forget to vote tomorrow, and to bring a valid ID with you.

  • Why is Midterm election turnout so low?

    Midterm elections are coming up in November, but you probably won’t vote. Statistically, I have more than a 50 percent chance of being right about that.

    Voter turnout always falls far short of the entire US electorate, with Presidential Elections generally attracting somewhere between 50 and 60 percent of eligible voters. Midterms, though, barely even reach 40 percent, despite being arguably more important than Presidential elections (midterms do after all elect the entire House of Representatives, a third of the Senate and Governors in 34 states).

    Why is turnout so low? There are certainly cases of socioeconomic disenfranchisement, which accounts for part of it. But why do citizens who are very much enfranchised not even bother?

    A few guesses:

    • They’re uninformed: A lot of people simply don’t pay attention to the political system, and only hear big news that makes waves in the 24 hours news cycle. The national media is partially complicit in this, as they only seem to think in terms of Presidential Elections, and the angle for every news story is how it will affect the public officials involved if they run for President. Most national coverage of the midterms has focused more on what it could mean about the 2016 Election than who’s running for 2014. Local media is slightly better, but often gets drowned out in the conversation.
    • A Governor isn’t running: This only goes for 16 states, but Senate and House elections don’t exactly drum up the excitement of a Presidential or Governor race. In Indiana, we’re not electing a Senator or a Governor, just Representatives. That’s even less exciting because…
    • Systematic advantages: Congressional districts are so gerrymandered along political lines that few of them are competitive. In addition, the system favors those who have money, and the winner is almost always the one with the most campaign funds, not necessarily the one with the best ideas. Generally, this favors incumbents who have ties to many donors and lobbies.

    I realize none of these definitively answer why turnout is low, but they point out some flaws in our system. Maybe in searching for solutions for these problems, turnout will increase.

    And by the way, Midterms are on November 4. The deadline to register to vote for them in Indiana is October 6.