Another viewpoint editorial: It’s time for Hoosiers to work on our civic health

Fort Wayne Journal Gazette

Our political leaders must take the Indiana Bar Foundation and Indiana Civic Coalition’s 2023 Civic Health Index seriously.

Delivered on Jan. 24, the sixth annual index shows that while Indiana has a strong foundation in civic education and social and community connectivity, low voter turnout poses a significant problem in reversing voter apathy.

During the 2020 presidential election, Indiana had a voter turnout of 61.9%, five percentage points lower than the national average. Although it is not a significant difference, the level of enthusiasm did not translate to the 2022 midterms, with just 41.9% of Hoosier voters participating, while the national average was 52.2%.

Compared to other states and the District of Columbia, Indiana ranked last for turnout during the 2022 midterms, even though the cycle saw the highest voter registration rate nationally recorded by the Census Bureau. Indiana ranks 40th for voter registration — with 66.5% of the state’s eligible voters registered.

It’s a troubling disparity that, at least in 2022, two-thirds of eligible Hoosiers had the right to vote, yet more than half opted out. The co-founder of the Indiana Citizen Education Foundation finds that ominous.

“If I were to want to sound a little bit apocalyptic, democracy is dying right before our very eyes,” Bill Moreau told Fox 59. “When you see the data about 18-, 19-, 20- and 21-year-olds checking out, they’re being raised by 40-year-olds who’ve checked out, so where do we connect this emphasis on civics education to civic responsibility?”

The report calls for a statewide focus on improving youth voter registration, particularly among 18- to 21-year-olds with the lowest voter registration rates.

The report recommends investing in nonpartisan educational programs targeting young Hoosiers to address this issue. These programs will encourage eligible students to register to vote and, in turn, create a more engaged and active citizenry.

Although the report does not recommend pre-registering 16- and 17-year-olds for voting, 16 states, including most recently Michigan, have approved the process. It’s nonpartisan and has the potential to raise participation in elections. Voting is synonymous with adulthood in a literal sense — casting a ballot is having a personal stake in the republic.

In Michigan, the secretary of state’s office will contact every resident between 16 and 18 years old who has applied for a driver’s license or state identification card and has not pre-registered or registered to vote.

The cost of the annual postcard notice is $64,000.

The Michigan education department will work with the secretary of state in an annual outreach campaign.

Michigan may have found an inexpensive way to improve voter registration rates. It’s time to ask Indiana lawmakers what they are doing to attack this problem.