Suppressing Hoosier Votes

The World’s Worst Legislature is coming to the end of this session, and we are beginning to see just how much damage it has inflicted and on whom.

Governor Holcomb has already signed the bill he described as “clear as mud,” depriving trans children of critically-important medical care. (That the measure was harmful and mean-spirited was clear.)

House bills still in the works will further enrich private (overwhelmingly religious) schools at the expense of the public schools that educate some 90% of Indiana children, although the Senate appears to have reconsidered.

And the Republicans who owe their seats to gerrymandering are passing measures to further suppress the vote.

According to the Cost of Voting study conducted by Northern Illinois University in 2020 Indiana’s restrictive voting laws make casting a ballot in the Hoosier state more difficult than most others. Our ranking was 41st in 2020 and if House Bill 1334 passes, it adds hurdles that are sure to get worse.

Sponsored by Rep. Tim Wesco, R-Osceola, the bill puts additional restrictions on voting by mail in Indiana, even though we already have laws in place that strictly limit access to a mail-in ballot.

The legislation’s worst section has been billed as an attempt to bring consistency to our voting laws by putting the same voter ID requirements in place for absentee-by-mail voting as those for in-person voting. In reality, this legislation is yet another attempt by the Republican supermajority to put additional hurdles in place before voters can access their ballot.

House Bill 1334 would require anyone using a paper form to apply to vote absentee by mail to include a copy of their Indiana driver’s license or include their voter identification number, which the form will suggest is the last four digits of the voter’s social security number.

That’s the first new hurdle that voters will have to scale because many of us don’t know what voter ID number is on file for us and it’s not always the last four digits of our social. This is particularly true for voters who have been registered at the same address for many years. That’s because Indiana didn’t start requiring voter registration applicants to provide any ID number until the early 2000s, when the statewide voter file was created and hundreds of thousands of voters were assigned a random voter ID number.

The author of the article goes on to explain that she is one of those “hundreds of thousands.” She’s been registered at the same address for over 20 years, but has no idea what her “randomly assigned number” might be. Under the just-passed bill, in order to complete all the information that will now be required on an application for an absentee ballot, she would need to contact the Marion County Election Board and get that information from them, inserting another step into the process.

Because I’m hyper-familiar with Indiana voting laws, I’ll know to make that call but most voters won’t have a clue. Instead, they will write down a number that may not match what’s on file for them, and their absentee ballot application will be rejected.  the legislation even anticipates that this problem is going to happen, because it requires a process be in place to “cure” defective applications.

The “cure” requires county voting officials to call the voter, explain the issue, and offer them the necessary information. But as the article accurately notes,

It’s important to remember that because our state puts limits on who can vote by mail, most Hoosiers who cast a mail-in ballot are elderly or disabled. They are least able to jump over new hurdles like providing a copy of a driver’s license or playing guess my Voter ID number with county officials.

That, of course, is the point.

Our Hoosier “Vote Suppression Is Us”legislature isn’t taking any chances. One of the least-understood consequences of gerrymandering is vote suppression– voters who live in districts that are considered “safe” for the party they don’t support are far less likely to cast a ballot. (If they all did, some of those districts wouldn’t be safe.) But just in case grandpa can’t get to the polls in his wheelchair but has the nerve to want to cast a ballot anyway, this legislation will make it much less likely that he will be able do so.

As usual, legislators piously claim that suppression efforts, like Voter ID, are meant to reduce “voter fraud”–a claim that is demonstrably bull****.  All credible evidence–including repeated academic studies–confirms that voter fraud is vanishingly rare.

Members of Indiana’s super-majority are simply intent upon retaining the ability to choose their voters, rather than acquiescing to a basic premise of democracy– the right of voters to choose their representatives.

They’re shameless.


Minority Rule, Courtesy of Gerrymandering

In addition to its website, Talking Points Memo sends out a morning newsletter to subscribers. A few days ago, that newsletter (paywall) included two paragraphs that sum up the single biggest challenge facing American democracy.

The success of the abortion rights coalition in ballot initiatives from Kentucky to Michigan showed that abortion can be just as powerful an incentive to vote for those who support abortion access as for those who oppose it.

For many House Republicans, that shift would, in another world, alter their behavior. With majorities in even deeply red states supporting abortion access, you’d expect these lawmakers to moderate their position. But thanks to the dearth of competitive House districts due to cumulative years of gerrymandering, many of them have more to fear from a primary challenge from the right than a general election against a Democrat.

I have frequently posted about the effects of gerrymandering. Probably the most damaging consequence is voter suppression; as I have often noted, people who live in a district considered “safe” for the party they don’t support lack an incentive to vote. When the disfavored party doesn’t turn out, that also depresses the votes for that party’s  candidates for statewide office.

Here in Indiana–a state that has been identified as one of the five most gerrymandered states in the country–our legislature is beginning a session in which the Republican super-majority continues to disregard the demonstrated priorities of its Hoosier constituents.

Several Republican lawmakers appear to oppose the Governor’s call to invest in the Hoosier state’s inadequate, struggling public health system. For that matter, there appears to be no appetite for confronting Indiana’s dismal ratings in a wide variety of quality of life indicators. As Hoosier Democrats recently pointed out: 

Hoosiers have a F rated quality-of-life and the state has a D- rated workforce, a C- rated education system, the third worst maternal mortality rate in the nation, and the country’s most polluted waterways. It appears Republicans will once again ignore the warning signs from Indiana’s top business leaders and their taxpayer-funded reports and instead choose to focus on their extreme agenda.

CNBC lists Indiana as one of the ten worst states in which to live.

Over the past couple of days, I’ve posted on just one part of that extreme agenda, the GOP’s war on public education. Other efforts include our lawmakers’ continuing war on LGBTQ Hoosiers– especially on  trans kids and anyone in the medical community who dares to serves them.

Indiana isn’t alone, unfortunately.

In 2015, two political scientists– Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern–published a study concluding that the preferences of US voters barely matter. Or as they put it, “economic elites and organized interest groups play a substantial part in affecting public policy, but the general public has little or no independent influence.”…

Gilens and “a small army of research assistants” compiled nearly 2,000 polls and surveys that asked for opinions about a proposed policy change. Since he wanted to separate out the preferences of economic elites and average citizens, he only used surveys that asked about respondents’ income. He found 1,779 poll results that fit that description, spanning from 1981 to 2002. Then he took the answers of median-income voters to represent what average voters think, and the answers of respondents at the 90th income percentile to represent what economic elites think.

Next, the authors had to measure what interest groups thought about all of those issues. They decided to use Fortune magazine’s yearly “Power 25” lists of the most influential lobbying groups, but since it “seemed to neglect certain major business interests,” they added the ten industries that had reported the most spending on lobbying. Their final list includes 29 business groups, several major unions, and other well-known interest groups like the AARP, the Christian Coalition, the NRA, the American Legion, and AIPAC. Each interest group’s position on those 1,779 policy change proposals were coded, along with how strongly each group felt about each proposal. The results were combined to assess how interest groups in general, felt.

The study found that average citizens only get what they want if economic elites or organized interest groups also want it…

In contrast, the preferences of economic elites and interest groups — especially economic elites — are each quite influential.

In dramatically gerrymandered Indiana, the clear preferences/warnings of the state’s largest businesses and growing tech sector are routinely disregarded in favor of  the “influential elites” who evidently believe that low taxes are a more attractive economic development tool than a reasonable quality of life–a belief with which CNBC begs to differ.

Indiana’s super-majority does listen to the well-organized religious fundamentalists whose policy preferences repel the high-skilled workers our economy needs. 

As long as they can gerrymander, our unrepresentative representatives are safe from democracy– and their constituents.