Rules of the Game

When you teach political science or public administration, you try to explain to students the importance of systems–the rules of the game.

Most Americans watch political campaigns much the same way as they watch football or baseball–as a contest between two (or more) competitors. May the best team win. We recognize that there are rules, that fouls should be punished and not rewarded, but it all seems pretty transparent.

The rules that govern elections aren’t so easily observed, and partisans work hard to rig them. As the Indianapolis Star observed in an editorial this morning,

“state law also has discouraged voter turnout. Indiana’s polls, for example, close at 6 p.m. on Election Day, an earlier cutoff than in many other states. The early close at the polls makes it difficult for many workers, including those with children to drop off or pick up and those with lengthy commutes to work, to show up on Election Day. Indiana also has been slow to adopt innovations such as early voting centers and Election Day voting centers, which eliminate the need to turn out at a specific polling site on a specified day.

Indiana also presents third parties with a higher threshold for ballot access than many other states. The inability to get their candidates on the ballot discourages would-be voters who don’t fit within Democratic or Republican silos.”

This year, Indianapolis voters saw a particularly egregious example of efforts at vote suppression, when the local GOP adamantly refused to authorize satellite voting centers. The rule is that such changes must receive a unanimous vote from the Election Board, and the Republican member consistently blocked the Clerk’s effort to establish convenient polling places. Initially, he argued that setting up satellite sites would be “too expensive.” When a local union offered to pay the (really pretty modest) cost, he still refused–although if he offered a justification for his intransigence, I didn’t hear it.

Coming on the heels of Todd Rokita’s efforts to make voting more difficult for the poor and elderly, by requiring the sort of IDs that most of us privileged folks–who are more likely to vote Republican-already have, it is hard to see this as anything but a continuation of efforts to make voting more difficult for populations that skew Democrat.

The pious justification for the ID requirement was prevention of fraud (although the only documented cases of voter fraud involved absentee ballots, which were not part of the “reform” effort). There is no justification for prevention of satellite voting centers.

As the Star points out, it’s the height of hypocrisy to bemoan Indiana’s low turnout at the same time lawmakers are doing everything possible to keep people from the polls.