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Indiana works to avoid record-low election turnout

September 6, 2014

Indiana's top elections official and leaders of both political parties are turning to traditional and social media and door-to-door visits in hopes of getting more residents to vote in the November general election.

They have good reason to be worried: The May primary saw a paltry 13 percent of Indiana's 4.57 million registered voters cast a ballot, and an absence of marquee races that occurs once every 12 years in Indiana could lead to the lowest general election voter turnout in state history.

Secretary of State Connie Lawson, a Republican who is seeking reelection, doesn't want that to happen. She has launched a $750,000 nonpartisan get-out-the-vote effort this year using radio, television and newspaper ads focusing on the value and potential decisiveness of each vote.

"The United States has a rich history of citizens standing up to be counted, and we need to preserve this proud tradition," Lawson said. "Our republic depends on Hoosiers taking the initiative to play an active role in preserving the freedoms of democracy."

The Republican and Democratic parties also are encouraging supporters to show up at the polls, using door-to-door visits and social media messages and tossing candy to children at parades to spread the word, The Times of Munster reported.

They may have an uphill battle. The only statewide races on the Nov. 4 ballot are those for secretary of state, treasurer and auditor — none of which are usually big draws for voters. And though all nine congressional seats are on the ballot, the races are largely uncompetitive, as are legislative seats that were redrawn to favor Republican majorities in the House and Senate.

Voter turnout in Indiana has fallen significantly from the 1962-94 period, when turnout in nonpresidential elections averaged nearly 60 percent. In 2010, only 41 percent of the state's registered voters cast a ballot.

In 2002, the last time no top races were on the ballot, 22 percent of registered voters turned out in the primary.

Besides sleepy races, voter participation is affected by a state's education and income levels, whether a person's parents voted regularly and other factors, including restrictions on voter registration, experts say.

In 2005, Indiana approved one of the nation's first laws requiring voters to produce photo identification to obtain a ballot. But political observers say the requirement isn't to blame for the lackluster turnout.

Before the law took effect, midterm election turnout was 44 percent in 1998 and 39 percent in 2002. After the law, 40 percent of voters turned out in 2006 and 41 percent in 2010.

Opponents still contend the law is unnecessary and say there's been no evidence of widespread voter fraud prior to the law. But Republican state Rep. Woody Burton of Whiteland said the numbers show there's nothing wrong with requiring ID at a polling place.

"I think the test of time is showing it's not that big of a deal," Burton said. "If voting was the only place where we needed a photo ID, I'd say, 'Wait a minute.' But tell me, what kind of transaction is conducted today without an ID?"

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