You’d think – or at least hope – that the folks responsible for protecting and nourishing democracy in a state where voter turnout consistently lags well behind the national average would be eager to make voting simpler and more accessible.
But in Marion County, IN, which includes Indianapolis and is home to more than one out of every eight Hoosiers – you’d be wrong.
Marion County officials have responded to low voter turnout by restricting the number of available early voting locations across their sprawling jurisdiction. Common Cause and the NAACP are suing them in an effort to secure more sites.
The Indianapolis Star reports today that in testimony Wednesday to a legislative committee, Secretary of State Connie Lawson defended Marion County’s action and asserted that there’s no evidence that more early voting locations lead to higher voter turnout.
“The early voting really effects (frequent voters) more; it affects when they vote. What affects an increase of voters is the ease of voting on Election Day,” Lawson said.
Lawson’s claim flies in the face of experience in Hamilton County, immediately adjacent to Marion, and in other central Indiana locales. Officials in Hamilton have beefed up early voting opportunities in recent years and have seen turnout increase by nearly 21 percent since 2008; in Marion County, where early voting opportunities are declining, turnout since 2008 is down by almost 3 percent, the Star reports.
A survey earlier this month by the newspaper found turnout increases elsewhere in central Indiana where early voting has been expanded.
One big difference between those counties and Marion is that their voters almost always prefer Republican candidates; Marion County is heavily Democratic, thanks largely to African-American voters in Indianapolis.
The Hoosier State ranks 10th from the bottom in voter turnout nationally and the Star reports that Indianapolis’ Democratic mayor has made several attempts to expand early voting in Marion, the state’s most populous county. Every time, the city leaders have been shut down by Republicans who control Indiana’s election systems.
That, sadly, appears to be part of a national pattern in which GOP leaders are working to erect new obstacles to voting and strengthen old ones. It’s an unfortunate break from history for the party of Lincoln; Republican votes in Congress were pivotal in passing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and helped renew it several times as well.
But since 2013, when the Supreme Court set aside major sections of the law, GOP leaders including Vice President Pence have secured passage of state laws requiring voters to produce specific forms of identification, limiting early voting, and imposing new conditions on voter registration.
Now, with Pence serving as chairman of President Trump’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, the Trump administration appears determined to do even more to keep non-Republican voters, particular people of color and students, from voting.