Gregg:  All Hoosiers Must Participate For Indiana To Get Back On Track

Gregg: All Hoosiers Must Participate For Indiana To Get Back On Track

By John Gregg, Democratic Candidate for Indiana Governor

In just a few short weeks Hoosiers will be electing mayors, city councilors and other important local officials that many argue – myself included – have more of a direct impact on our daily lives than say a President, U.S. Senator or even a Governor.

The problem is that regardless of the office or the year, fewer and fewer Hoosiers are going to the polls and participating in these critical elections. In fact, in 2014 Indiana was dead last in the nation in voter turnout. Only 28 percent of registered voters actually cast ballots.

This low rate of civic engagement should concern every Hoosier, no matter your political party or philosophy, because it puts the future of our democracy in jeopardy.

In Indiana, partisan politics has made it harder and harder for Hoosiers to participate in our own government. We have some of the shortest voting hours in the country; there are cumbersome requirements to register and to vote; and voting by mail requires a signed affidavit. On top of all that, the General Assembly continues to pass laws to make voting even more difficult every year.

I’m running for Governor because I believe Indiana is stronger and better when every Hoosier has a seat at the table and is called upon to participate. From growing our economy, to improving education, to ensuring families are healthy and safe, to rebuilding our infrastructure – we all have a stake in Indiana’s future. To set the best course possible, we need everyone’s input.

That’s why today I am announcing the first of many policy proposals that seek to engage more Hoosier citizens in Indiana’s future. Through my “Voter Participation Plan” I will work with the Secretary of State and members of the Indiana General Assembly to enact common sense reforms that will allow and encourage more Hoosiers to vote, with the goal of increasing voter participation in Indiana to 75% by 2020. Those reforms include:

Expand Polling Hours
With Hoosiers working longer and harder than ever, getting to a polling location between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. is impossible for many. Hawaii and Kentucky are the only other states with such restrictive voting hours, and we can and must change that. I propose expanding the hours in which polling places are required to remain open from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. on Election Days to allow more people the opportunity to vote.

Automatic Voter Registration
Following other states’ lead, I propose that Indiana automatically registers all eligible U.S. citizens who have an Indiana driver’s license or have utilized services offered by state government, unless they choose to opt out. According to numbers maintained by the State’s Elections Division, there are just over 396,000 eligible Hoosiers who are not currently registered to vote. This change would allow them to cast ballots and it would also eliminate the need for Hoosiers to register 29 days before the election in order to participate.

Expand Acceptable forms of Voter Identification
Preventing voter fraud in our elections is important – but so is allowing eligible citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote. I propose we expand the forms of acceptable identification for the purposes of voting to any identification issued by local, state or the federal government or an Indiana college or university, even if they do not contain an expiration date. Current utility bills, bank statements, paychecks or other government documents that list the name and address of the voter should also be accepted. Indiana driver’s licenses, state identification cards and passports are among the few forms of identification that are now considered acceptable – even members of the military who don’t have an expiration date on their ID cannot currently use them as acceptable identification.

Expand Early Voting
In addition to expanding voting hours, Hoosiers should be able to go to their county clerk’s offices and satellite voting centers at least 30 days before an election, including weekends. Each county should designate at least three satellite voting centers – be they in state or local government offices or elsewhere – where Hoosiers can cast their ballots early. These should be in addition to normal Election Day polling locations. Hoosiers should also be able to register the same day as they early vote.

Expand Opportunities to Vote by Mail
As done in several other states, I propose Hoosiers should be given the opportunity to cast an absentee ballot without signing an affidavit saying they can’t make it to the polling location on Election Day. The current process deters voters from utilizing this easy option. By reversing it, more Hoosiers will vote.

Create an Independent Redistricting Commission
A significant reason many Hoosiers don’t bother to vote is they feel their votes don’t count – and because of gerrymandering, many of them are correct. In Indiana, not one of our nine congressional districts is deemed competitive and of the 150 seats in the General Assembly only a small fraction are considered competitive. Of the 125 seats up for election in 2014, almost half had no opponent. And many of those seats that were contested were decided by wide margins.

It’s time to remove partisan considerations from the redistricting process. It’s time to create an independent redistricting commission that will draw district maps based on legitimate legal factors, but exclude partisan and incumbent protection considerations.

These proposals are just a starting point. Some may work, some may not, and there certainly will be other ideas to add to this list – the point is this: we must try to address this crisis before it gets any worse.

Hoosiers are at our best when we are all working together – no matter what the challenge. And to achieve our best, we cannot continue to leave so many citizens out of our electoral process.

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