Electing the Problems

I don’t know how many conversations I’ve had with people who couldn’t understand how the Indiana legislature could [fill in the blank with your choice of the biggest travesty]. During the just-concluded session, Republicans and Democrats alike posted highly critical messages to FB and Twitter, most of which involved some version of “what is the matter with these people?”

So– who elected these folks?

The Center for Civic Literacy recently worked with the Indiana Bar Foundation and others on the most recent iteration of the Civic Health Index, a periodic state by state measurement of civic engagement. In Indiana, the effort is co-chaired by Randy Shepard and Lee Hamilton, and the survey results may give us a clue about why so many elected officials in Indiana—not just in the legislature—are so disconnected from the attitudes and policy preferences of so many Hoosiers. That disconnect, as we saw with RFRA, leaves them susceptible to small but highly motivated interest group lobbyists.

Let me just share a few of the most pertinent metrics.

  • 6.5% of Hoosiers report working with neighbors to solve a community problem.  Indiana ranks 47th among the states.
  • 17.5% of us participate in associations or organizations. We rank 44th.
  • 69.2% of those who are eligible are registered to vote. We rank 37th.
  • In a presidential year, 69.2% of us vote. We rank 37th.
  • In the last off-year election, as you may have heard, 39.4% voted, ranking Indiana dead last among the states.
  • Only 11% of Hoosiers report ever contacting a public official. We rank 30th.

There is considerable evidence that higher levels of civic knowledge correlate with increased civic engagement. The statistics on civic knowledge are incredibly depressing: only 36% percent of Americans know that we have three branches of government, 58% cannot name a single federal Cabinet department—it goes on and on. People who don’t know how government works don’t participate in self-government.

The Center for Civic Literacy was formed to examine the causes and consequences of low civic literacy. Lack of participation is one of those consequences.

The question we can’t answer–at least, not yet–is: what would it take to get more people involved? What needs to happen in order to get more people out to vote? There are certainly reasons other than low civic literacy for low levels of civic participation—lack of competitive contests in gerrymandered districts, for example– but until we raise the level of citizens’ knowledge, we aren’t going to raise their levels of participation.

And without significantly higher levels of informed participation, we’ll just keep electing our problems.

28 thoughts on “Electing the Problems

  1. I would suggest that one reason Indiana residents don’t get out to vote is because it is difficult. Think of a young mother with kids. She has to get the kids off to daycare by 6 or 6:30 and then to work before 8. The trip home requires her to pick up the kids by 5 and then get home to take care of those kids she has been away from all day. Where is the time to vote with a restrictive window of 6 a to 6 p? What about the people who have trouble getting an ID because they don’t have a copy of their birth certificate; what about the people that don’t know where they vote or have a way to get there? And early voting, absentee; forget it. Most counties requires you show up in person at the clerk’s office between the hours of 8 and 4. Mitch Daniels was the architect of the “make it hard for them to vote,” and the fruits of his labor are evident. People don’t vote in Indiana don’t vote because it is too hard, and the GOP is perfectly fine with that.

  2. I wonder if paradoxical oligarchy is self sustaining or even worse self feeding. That as the performance of government declines and the burdens of governmental incompetence accrue to the people the people get more apathetic about their ability to do anything about anything.

    Or perhaps the effects of the misleading information funded by oligarchs is cumulative.

    If either is true our republic is in danger of revolution.

  3. Perhaps I ended that too soon. As democracy fails to solve the problem of elected representative incompetence the burdens and therefore pressures on the middle class grow until voting is no longer considered a solution.

    Another problem for Democrats. Hillary wins but we continue to elect another do nothing sensible Congress. Therefore the pressure on the middle class increases as climate change and the self inflicted suicide of capitalism beat us up and congress continues to deny. The revolution could easily be blamed by the oligarchs buying culture on Democrats and use their failure to launch more elective success.

  4. Theresa; it is difficult for many to get out to vote BUT…with 1-5 children I managed to get out to vote every election since 1958 when I became 21 years old. When I was a stay-at-home Mom and later when I worked full time. I am now 78, deaf, disabled and drive a 19 year old car – I can’t wait to get to the polls tomorrow morning to cast my vote in the Primary Election. It can be done; so it takes a little or a lot of effort, just DO IT. I voted when I lived in Las Vegas, Nevada, and when I lived in Port Richey, Florida. I tracked candidates and researched information to make my decisions regarding candidates. I have said before and will say again at this time that I deeply resent the GOP becoming the enemy of the general public, in the state of Indiana and on the national level, forcing me to vote straight Democratic ticket rather than selecting candidates by their campaign platforms and their history. Those who are qualified candidates in the Republican party will follow party guidelnes if elected and force us deeper into the lowering economy…except for Wall Street and the 1%. Read the article this morning in the Star regading the lack of awareness in this state of President Obama’s program to prevent foreclosure on homes which has been bypassed by Indiana for the most part.

    My last comment on yesterday’s post responding to Tom Lund; I neglected to say that the childhood friend of my children is now 55 years old, NOT a young person. Just this morning she shared the ridiculous Republican Rape Chart but will again vote for Republican candidates.

    Sheila; I cringe at the name Randy Shepard, have had this reaction for years. As for being active in the neighborhood; many of my neighbors used to ask me to contact the City regarding problems in this area because they knew I was a former City government employee. They no longer ask, they must have assumed I was a Republican as most of them are, till I posted Democratic yard signs. Accessing the Mayor’s Action Center used to be a simple matter; now it is a convoluted process and there is no way (none that I found) on the web site to send your report/complaint regarding a problem. A few days ago I AGAIN attempted to send a report regarding heavy overgrowth and RATS in a city drainage ditch that flows through our neighborhood and into Pleasant Run Creek. It is fenced off by the city, is very deep with 8 ft. tall cement retaining walls, one area on North Pasadena Avenue appears to have a 15 – 18 ft. tall tree growing in the middle of the stream. Mary Moriarty-Adams attended a Crime Watch meeting here late last summer; this was an issue she noted and said she would look into it AGAIN. When I couldn’t send my report on current conditions to MAC, I E-mailed Mary. I have received no response or acknowledgement my message was received by either party. How can we be active in neighborhood problems/conditions when this is the only system available to contact them?

    Those of you who are regular readers of this blog are well aware of my repeated urging – begging – people to vote. This entire state was publicly shamed by Pence and his RFRA law and “fix” to the point that the President of the United States made a very public joke about the state of Indiana. We are the low man on the totem pole, we are the weak link in the chain supporting the majority of Indiana resident’s well-being and a disgrace with our U.S. Senatorial representation. Indiana voters are primarily brain-washed Republicans of long standing; it seems to be genetic and can be traced back through generations. My own family is a primary example – I am the black sheep and proud of it. Am I pissed at the entire political situation – you betcha’ At my age, I doubt I will live long enough to see change or improvement on any viable level. PLEASE – vote tomorrow and again in the regular election in November. You will have no one to blame but yourselves if you again allow the Republicans to continue their foothold in this state – they have their foot on our throats, and the non-voters bear much of the blame.

  5. Is this hard, Sheila?

    In Indianapolis metro, where the big chunk of Hoosiers live, there is no meaningful choice in the elections. Primary elections coupled with slating allows the two parties to pick the exact same type of chosen candidate who is beholden to sports owners, Downtown Indianapolis interests, law firms, and corporate interests seeking lots of tax dollars for comparatively inexpensive campaign donations.

    The two parties pick the same exact candidate to run against each other in the general election, so the monied interests are guaranteed a win, while everyone else loses.

    In Indianapolis metro, your voice doesn’t matter, and if you speak up, they’ll write down your name and remember you, just like in the Stasi days.

    If you do vote, but you happen to be living with Mamaw for a while, but your address still says your old house where you can’t stay right now, they’ll prosecute you for voter fraud.

    What about this system would make anyone want to participate in it?

    Indianapolis Metro has a big tacit sign up saying about voting “Don’t Bother. We Got This.”

  6. The fact is it is easier to register and vote than it has ever been in Indiana. Granted maybe there aren’t as many early voting options as some people would like, but there was a time when they didn’t have and early voting. And you had to be registered by a registrar. You can now register to vote on-line.

    As far as turnout goes, Indiana’s numbers are due entirely to the fact that Indiana is one of the worst states in the country in terms of keeping its voter registration rolls clean. In the years since the federal government passed the Motor Voter Law, registration in Indiana has surged from 69% to 93%. That’s due almost entirely to the fact that Indiana doesn’t have automatic purges for non-voting anymore and local officials have been reluctant to clean up the voter registration rolls under the more complicated and expensive system set out in the Motor Voter Law and subsequent legislation. (Marion County at one time had over 100% registration.) Indiana has been sued for this failure. As a result, Indiana’s voter registration rolls are filled with deceased voters and people registered at multiple addresses because they moved. So when you do the turnout numbers, the numbers are going to be lower. If though you look at turnout versus the adult population, Indiana’s turnout has stayed steady over the years. We had a slight drop in 2014, but that was undoubtedly due to it being one of those rare years when we didn’t have a Governor or Senate race at the top of the ballot.

  7. Mr. Ogden:

    Your explanations don’t hold. If voter rolls are skewed in Indiana, then the clearest way to measure voter participation is against total county populations.

    Marion County is the 55th largest county in the United States, with a population of 903,393.

    DuPage County, Illinois is the 52nd largest county, with 916,924 residents.

    Erie County, New York is the 53rd largest county with 919,040 residents.

    Pinellas County, Florida is the 54th largest county, with a population of 916,542.

    Bergen County, New Jersey is the 56th largest county, with a population of 905,116.

    Hartford County, Connecticut is the 57th largest county, with a population of 894,014.

    Our much larger neighbor, Columbus, sits in Franklin County, Ohio and has a population of 1,163,414.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_most_populous_counties_in_the_United_States

    Seems the Census can’t add, but whatever.

    In the 2012 Presidential race, the following counties posted results.

    Marion 100.0% Reporting
    B. Obama (i) Dem 60.2% 215,474
    M. Romney GOP 38.1% 136,131
    351605/903393 = 38.9% of all residents.

    DuPage 99.9% Reporting
    B. Obama (i) Dem 49.7% 197,411
    M. Romney GOP 48.7% 193,333
    390744/916924 = 42.6% of all residents.

    Erie 100.0% Reporting
    B. Obama (i) Dem 56.9% 220,184
    M. Romney GOP 41.3% 159,678
    379862/919040 = 41.3% of all residents.

    Pinellas 100.0% Reporting
    B. Obama (i) Dem 52.2% 238,966
    M. Romney GOP 46.6% 213,192
    452158/916542 = 49.3% of all residents.

    Bergen 100.0% Reporting
    B. Obama (i) Dem 55.0% 193,470
    M. Romney GOP 44.1% 155,267
    348737/905116 = 38.5% of all residents.

    Hartford 100.0% Reporting
    B. Obama (i) Dem 62.2% 244,314
    M. Romney GOP 36.6% 143,648
    387692/894014 = 43.3% of all residents.

    Franklin 100.0% Reporting
    B. Obama (i) Dem 60.1% 325,654
    M. Romney GOP 38.4% 207,941
    532935/1163414 = 45.7% of all residents.

    To the extent that Marion County is representative of voter participation of like-sized metropolitan areas, Indiana voter participation is much lower than is found in other places, and no appeal to voter rolls or purges will change elementary division.

  8. Here’s a very interesting page that shows voter turnout measured against population.

    http://www.electproject.org/2012g

    The findings show that Indiana isn’t great, but it’s far from the worst.

    That Indiana pulls itself up off the floor when statewide participation is examined is further proof that Indianapolis is a very sick area.

  9. Mr. Ogden:

    Here’s a table that seems to defeat your argument, in toto.

    http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/cats/elections/voting-age_population_and_voter_participation.html

    See Table 400 “Persons Reported Registered and Voted by State: 2010”

    Of the total state population, Indiana only shows 59.4% of the state’s eligible population has registered to vote and that only 38.2% of the voting age population voted (these are 2010 figures). Indiana isn’t the worst state, but it’s nearer the bottom than the top.

    The Census figures do not rely on voter registrations. They are direct statewide measurements of persons who could vote against persons who did vote.

  10. Yes, it can be difficult to “fit” the time in to vote in Indiana. We present obstacles. However, anyone can request an absentee ballot, and those who really want to vote but don’t have the time should do so.

  11. I will agree with Gopper on this. The chosen candidates via Slating are near mirror images of each other. When is the last time anyone our City-County Council said loudly in a public meeting, No More Corporate Welfare for the Colts, and Pacers? When is the last time a someone on the City-County Council loudly demanded to know why our streets cannot be properly paved or patched??? Some of these Elected Officials have occupied Elected Offices for years and you would probably struggle to find anything meaningful they have accomplished.

    We have districts where essentially a Soviet System exists, i.e., the chosen candidate has no opposition, either in a Primary or General Election. The Oligarchy makes certain candidates who do not tow the line are weeded out.

    I suspect the lack of involvement comes down to a morale issue. I have at times tried to become politically involved and I have known others that tried. It becomes quite obvious Crony-Capitalism reigns Supreme. An active Fourth Estate, i.e., Mega-Media that would challenge and investigate our politically corrupt system would be enormously helpful. However our local Mega- Media has made a conscious choice to be apart of the establishment, not a watch dog.

  12. Louie, I was driving on Fall Creek, yesterday, past Emerson, out to Geist, and I could not find a single way through many patches of it, either in my lane or using the oncoming lane that didn’t utterly jar my car. I contemporaneously pondered what an idiotic town would leave such a major road in utter disrepair and leave it only two lanes, when a road of such importance should be at least two lanes, with shoulders and a center-turn lane, for its entire length.

    These Indianapolis roads are an embarrassment, but all the money goes to the sports teams, the law firms, the corporations, the not-for-profits, etc., so no money is left for the most basic city service.

    Other cities are better.

  13. Louie; your comment/question regarding City County Council speaking out against more corporate welfare for the Colts and Gopper’s comments regarding city street conditions came together in my mind, culminating in questions/points to ponder.

    So, the NFL has agreed to give up it’s tax exempt status; I assume it is too much to hope it will be made retroactive so…when will this begin to appear as tax dollars available for city and state needs such as street and road repair among other vital needs? Will it be in this decade? Gopper; I thought there was something wrong with my 19 year old car due to the severe shimmying…then I rode with my daughter-in-law in her Mustang convertable and suffered the same shimmy. Neither car had a problem, it was the accepted condition of Indianapolis streets throughout Marion County. A better question is this; if the NFL will have less income due to paying taxes, does this mean we will be turning over more local tax dollars to CIB to help support the Colts who haven’t been able to be self-supportive when not paying taxes? Sort of a Catch 22 situation, or am I wrong?

  14. Gopper, your experience on Fall Creek is sadly not the exception. I moved to Indianapolis from Chicago in 1976. My boss told me one thing you will notice about Indianapolis when you drive around is how few streets actually bisect the city either north to south or east to west. It almost seemed that Indianapolis was at one time several countries where the streets came to abrupt end at the border crossing (Iron Curtain). Rivers and streams also appear in places where the concept of bridges had been forgotten, i.e., the street ends.

    I think bottom line we witness the decades of bad attitude of our Elected Officials toward the people. A lousy Park System for the people but billions spent on stadiums for the Mega-Billionaire Owners of Professional Teams. Public Transportation is treated as a nonessential expense. Most Bus Stops do not have a place to sit and wait and wait for the pick-up. Some stops are just a few feet away from fast moving traffic, with a ditch at your back. When do think the last time a Mayor of Indianapolis tried to take Public Transportation from their home to the City County Building??? Probably never would be the answer.

    I’ll just briefly mention all the trash left along our highways and byways with no one from the City picking it up.

  15. I have voted in every election. My representative is Don Lehe (who doesn’t even bother responding–ever); my senator is Brandt Hershman (only canned response), Todd Rokita (usually a bullying blow-off toned screed), Joe Donnelly (press 1 to talk to a person) and Dan Coats (form letters very similar in tone to Rokita). I also irritated Patricia Miller so much with my e-mail comments that she had someone point me out to her at a Harrison High School basketball game, but that was the ONLY response I ever got. However, democrats DO respond, even when they realize I am not in their district.

    Registering to vote is a breeze–but the election offices are closed on election day, so if you are one of the people they purge (even though you have voted in every election in the same county for the past thirty years) chances are you won’t be able to get reinstated in time to vote in the current election.

    In other words, lots of people are a lot smarter than me, and they stopped bothering with all this fake democracy years ago.

  16. girl cousin; a few years ago you may remember Mike Delph, Republican from Carmel, attempting to get a bill passed to fine employers knowingly hiring illegal immigrants and landlords renting to them. It wasn’t much but it was something to begin dealing with the illegal immigrant problem. Jim Merritt repeatedly shot down all of Delph’s attempts and I E-mailed Merritt so many times arguing with his arguments against Delph’s bill that he finally responded by asking for my home phone number so he could call me that night to “discuss the issue”. I responded that I am deaf and only communicate on line – never heard from him again, guess he didn’t want to put his views in print, one can always deny making statements or swear they were misunderstood. Of course, Delph seemed to lose his way through the maze of local problems or can’t deal with rejection. At that time I still had hopes that Delph, who also attempted to aid students deeply indebt with school loans, was possibly a rare breed – a thinking Republican who wanted to help his constituents. Another illusion shattered.

  17. When I registered to vote in Indy in 2009, I got a call from the clerk’s office to verify my address. They had an old address of when I lived west of the city back in 1999 and wanted to be sure to purge that registration for my new address. I think if you register, they do verify if you lived elsewhere so I’m not convinced that voter purges do not happen, especially after one moves and notifies them. Just my experience.

  18. The people I know that don’t vote say that their vote doesn’t matter. When I think about arguing with them I can’t- I feel the same way even though I have voted in every election since I was able to vote.

    It seems like big money always wins.

  19. I vote in the church at 12th Street and North Ridgeview Drive in Warren Township. Got there about 8:30 this morning; 12-15 workers sitting and standing around. Marked my ballot, entered it into the machine and saw that I was voter #6 – SIX. Don’t the paid poll workers vote? The parking lot had several cars parked near the entrance to building where we vote; I was the only voter so evidently the workers parked in front of the doorway. ’nuff said about this dismal situation on Primary Election Day in Indianapolis.

  20. Forgot to mention that my polling place houses three districts on election days.

  21. Louie:

    Indianapolis has a horribly executed street grid.

    There are no consistent 400 blocks, and only a few streets cut entirely across the city, north to south, east to west.

    There’s no excuse for such an awful street grid. Indianapolis was built on virgin, flat, ground that could have been laid out correctly.

    Indianapolis was truly designed by dunces, and successive generations haven’t fixed the prior generations’ errors.

  22. “As far as turnout goes, Indiana’s numbers are due entirely to the fact that Indiana is one of the worst states in the country in terms of keeping its voter registration rolls clean.”

    So THAT’s why I was at a downtown precinct all day yesterday and only 38 people voted in person. There also were 8 absentee voters. So if they cleaned up the voter registration rolls, 46 votes in that precinct would have amounted to what, 70%? Same precinct had slightly higher numbers in the general election last year. Last year’s primary was similar to yesterday. The other precinct at the same polling site yesterday had about 20 voters in person and 9 absentee.

    Yeah, we’ll clean up the rolls, and the poll book will only be 4 pages long! Awesome solution!

    As for those who think their vote doesn’t count, well of course it doesn’t count if you don’t vote!

  23. JoAnn Green: Unfortunately, the NFL non-profit thing will probably have 0 impact on local taxes. The teams themselves have always been for-profit corporations. Only the NFL League Office was a non-profit. Pretty much they won’t profit now either; almost all the money they bring in is divided between the actual team corporations (with the exception of salaries for the commissioner and other league personnel and other overhead)
    The whole deal is PR

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