• 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.

  • Lake County polling goes to court

    In light of all the candidates jumping into the 2016 Presidential race, let me take the opportunity to urge my fellow residents of Lake County to pay attention to a case currently before the Indiana Supreme Court: State of Indiana v. John Buncich.

    A little background: Senate Enrolled Act 385, passed by the state legislature, requires a study on consolidating Lake County voting precincts that cater to 500 voters or less. The law is ostensibly aimed at making the polling process more efficient.

    The law was struck down by the Lake County Circuit Court for violating the State Constitution, which prohibits passing local or special laws related to elections, among other things. The case went before the state Supreme Court on Thursday, which is set to rule on it.

    The law applies only to Lake County, proponents claim, because it has a high number of such small polling precincts. However, plaintiff John Buncich, Lake County Sheriff and Chairman of the Lake County Democratic Party, argues that the law would make voting more difficult for Lake County residents.

    Buncich is not wrong to be skeptical. The last half-decade or so has seen the rise of voter ID laws in several Republican state legislatures, supposedly to ensure voter integrity, even though the extent of “voter fraud” is beyond minuscule (Indiana passed such a law before the slew of other states followed through). Such laws have disproportionally made voting more difficult for poor and minority voters in those states. And a lot of those same states have also cut down on early voting programs and restricted voting hours.

    Is the law aimed at Lake County a similar attempt by a Republican legislature to place voting obstacles on a strongly Democratic corner of the state? To be fair, Lake County’s turnout in last year’s election was only 27 percent, so maybe it is just about streamlining the process. I’d at least like to think that the Republicans' reasoning is out of practicality, not a partisan move to limit democracy for their benefit.

    But even if they are acting in good faith, I’m still against such polling place consolidation. I believe citizens should be given every opportunity to vote. If that means several precincts that cater to a relatively smaller number of people, so be it. The cost of keeping those polling places running is a small price to pay for democracy.

    However the Court rules in this case, all Lake County Residents planning to vote should pay close attention to their registration status and their assigned polling place. There’s still plenty of time to get everything in order before next year’s primaries and elections.

  • Of voter selfies and political optics

    In July, taking and/or sharing photos of one’s ballot in the voting booth became illegal in Indiana. Last week, the law went before a federal court, with the ACLU of Indiana arguing it’s a violation of freedom of speech.

    The state’s argument for the law is that it’s ensuring the complete privacy and legitimacy of the ballot. Sharing one’s ballot can open the door to voter coercion and intimidation, they contend, because the intimidating party can demand a photo as proof for whom a person voted.

    I definitely agree it’s important that every voter is guaranteed the privacy of the voting booth. However, if they choose to waive that privacy of their own accord, such as by taking a selfie with their ballot, I think they should be allowed. As for the state’s voter intimidation hypothesisl, I think voter ID laws like those in Indiana and other states—laws which have created several obstacles to voting in the name of preventing voter fraud, even though statistically the problem is nearly nonexistent—is a bigger threat to the inalienable right to vote.

    But beyond debating the law’s merits, this is an especially egregious case of bad optics. I mean, didn’t the state of Indiana stop and think that this law would look a little suspicious, given that Indiana already has a voter ID law, the state had the lowest voter turnout in the country in last year’s midterms, and the controversial polling consolidation of the most Democrat-leaning part of the state? Even if it’s just a coincidence, and the majority-Republican state legislature’s intent with this law was to protect voters, it still sort of looks to the layperson like another law tightening rules and restrictions on voting.

    Optics is important in this age of immediate information and short attention spans. Even if a subject or issue is more complicated, by the time one gets around to adequately explaining it, onlookers have probably moved on to something else, so it’s more important than ever to strike the correct note right off the bat.

    Then again, given how blindsided the state seemed by the universal negativity to the RFRA earlier this year, even with LGBT acceptance nationwide at an all-time high and only going up, maybe positive optics is too much to ask.

  • 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.

     

  • The easiest thing you can do today…that could make a difference

    To vote in the Indiana Primary on May 3, today is the deadline to register. And this year, the primary might actually matter.

    Well, it always matters. Sure, it can seem like a mere formality at times, such as when candidates for certain offices run unopposed. Or, since our primary is on the later end of the schedule, if the Presidential nominations are already decided and several people on the ballot aren’t even still running. But in either case, the votes are still counted.

    This year is different, however, as both major party races are far from settled. The battle for the Democratic Presidential nomination is still competitive, and since Democratic pledged delegates are awarded proportionally, every vote truly does count. On the Republican side, it realistically looks more like a contest between Donald Trump and a brokered convention at this point than between him and any other candidate. Still, every last vote matters in that contest as well.

    Aside from the national elections, there's still the matter of choosing candidates in state and local elections. Here's a little refresher you can use to familiarize yourself over the next four weeks if you're unfamiliar with them.

    Turnout for the Indiana Primary has been pretty low in Presidential election years, usually hovering around 20 percent since the start of the millennium. The one exception was in 2008, when Hillary Clinton won a close contest in the state, but not by enough of a margin to weather the campaign of then-Senator Barack Obama. Our state played a part in what was widely considered the last stand of the Clinton campaign by pundits and the media.

    And the turnout form that Primary? 40 percent.

    The Republican race that year was already decided before the Indiana Primary. This year, with both parties having incentive to get out and vote, there's no reason we can't top that.

    So, if you’re eligible to vote but not registered, do so. You don’t even need to go out on this wintry day to do it.

    If, however, you’re reading this when Monday has passed…well, register to vote anyway, so you can do so in November.

  • The State of Referendum

    If you have driven around the region these last few years during the month of April, you may have seen signs in yards asking voters to vote “yes” on a school referendum.  

    In 2008, the state legislature passed a law that changes the ways that a district is able to levy taxes for the operation of schools within the district or for the cost of construction.  Since that time, several districts within the state have had referendum votes for small tax increases to offset the limitations set by the law. I live in Hebron and it took two separate elections to pass one in our school district.

    The first vote in 2013 failed by only four votes- 547 to 543.  The defeat resulted in Metropolitan School District of Boone Township having to make several cutbacks.  The greatest of which was the termination of six teachers, which meant some classes would be overcrowded.  In a town with nearly 2,500 residents, voter apathy may have played a role in the measure being defeated the first time.  In our family's case, we did not vote in this election, and thus did not vote for the measure at all.  At that time, our home was not affected by passage or defeat, since our oldest child was not yet in school. 

    The measure did pass the following April, and it did so by just 23 votes.  The passed measure called for an increase of $0.21 per $100 of assessed property value.  This meant that a home with an assessed value of $135,000 would see an annual tax increase of around $130.  We did vote yes on the second referendum, because our son was about to begin Kindergarten that following August, so we wanted to ensure we were investing in his education.  On his first day of school, his class size consisted of only 22 children.  

    These two elections brought out much emotion on opposing sides of the measure.  For us, we were looking out for what we felt was in the best interest of our children.  For a couple in town on a fixed income, whose children have already been through school, I can certainly understand the reason for them voting no.  Although these referendums are fairly new, it is still too soon to tell if there will be a long-lasting impact. In the case of our district, seeing exceptional grades on our son’s report card is a great start.   

     

  • 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.

  • 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.