Bill seeks to limit referendums to general elections

Lawmakers raised questions and community leaders testified against a bill that would require that referendums for school and government construction projects occur only during general elections every other year.

Indiana House Bill 1027, authored by Rep. David Frizzell, R-Indianapolis, would prevent referendums during primaries when fewer voters go to the polls. The House Elections Committee held the bill for further debate.

Frizzell said he proposed the bill because it is “important to have the most people out to vote.”

In 2014, the state had a 13-percent turnout in its primary election, a number that increased to 30 percent in the general election. The General Assembly has  moved the school board contests to the general election for similar reasons.

“I just think that as we did in a bill previously, more people should have the ability to vote on these very important issues,” Frizzell said.

Brad King, co-director of the Indiana Election Division, said the bill would reduce the cost of ballot printing and number of distribution errors.

Committee member Rep. Chuck Moseley, D-Portage, said he is concerned the bill could delay popular education projects.

“It could conceivably take up to 24 months for a referendum to take place if a non-election year were factored into that situation,” Moseley said. “We don’t want to hold it back for 24 months if it’s a project that’s going to be popular among taxpayers.”

Frizzell said he is open to changing the bill’s language to allow referendum voting by special elections in years without a general – but only if the school district or local government paid the costs.

“I like the law as it reads today,” said Brian Smith, executive director for the Indiana School Boards Association and a former Hamilton Southeastern superintendent. “I’ve done private elections … and the cost of bearing that isn’t good use of taxpayer money.”

Leah McGrath, government affairs director for the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, thinks the bill would reduce flexibility and timing — two crucial factors in building projects.

“Referendums should be held when school boards are reacting to the very real need,” said JT Coopman, executive director of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, “and not by an imposed election cycle.”

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