Indiana Rep. Timothy Wesco of Osceola has a bill in the House that would extend the voting day in Indiana by two hours. Wesco’s idea is to create more time to accommodate registered voters who may have to work or have other tasks to take care of on Election Day.
We commend Wesco for working to create more opportunities for voters, yet we wonder if adding more hours, thus more costs to taxpayers, would provide a good return on the dollar.
ELKHART COUNTY CLERK Chris Anderson told The Goshen News this week it is already a difficult task to line up the 243 poll workers to operate the 27 vote centers in the county. Those poll workers must commit to a 14-hour day. Poll supervisors are paid $150 plus $10 for meals and $10 for training. Poll facilitators and clerks are paid $110 plus the $10 food and training stipends.
Any addition of poll workers will increase the cost of elections for county taxpayers.
Wesco’s bill would require Indiana polls to open at 6 a.m. and close at 8 p.m., instead of the current 6 p.m. So, either poll workers will be required to work 16-hour days or the state’s county clerks and political parties will have to divide shifts in half and then find and train qualified people to man those shifts. We don’t think that task is impossible, because many other states have longer poll hours. New York polls are the extreme example of longer hours, with an opening time of 6 a.m. and closing time of 9 p.m.
Perhaps the easier solution is to continue to focus on providing early/absentee voting opportunities for Hoosiers.
IN ELKHART COUNTY absentee voting grew to 26% of all votes cast in the November election. Other counties had even higher percentages for absentee voting, with Vigo County having 52% of its votes cast early. Adding locations for early voting, or even creating a mobile early voting unit that could park at factories or shopping centers, might be a better use of county funds.
Our concern about the usefulness of extended polling hours is drawn from the persistent lack of interest in voting in Indiana. In November’s general election for municipal candidates, voter turnout in Indiana was a scant 23%. That pitifully small number becomes even smaller when you know there are 5 million people of voting age in Indiana, according to 2016 U.S. Census data. Just 2.8 million of those eligible adults have bothered to register to vote. Getting back to that 23% turnout, that translates to 645,458 voters.
THE LACK OF INTEREST in voting across Indiana is astonishing, considering politicians from townships to the Statehouse are levying taxes to pay for infrastructure, schools, programs, prisons, etc. The other unusual thing about the lack of interest by Hoosiers in casting ballots is that just about every adult these days seems to have an opinion on politics. But those opinions are not being backed up by action at the polls by the majority of voting-age adults in the state.
Wesco’s bill to extend hours may result in a few hundred more votes being cast across the state, which would be a push in a positive direction, and we thank him for his efforts to improve turnout. However, there is a bigger issue at play, and that is the lack of effort among most Hoosiers to participate in a basic freedom offered in the United States, and that is voting for the candidate of your choice.
Until that attitude swings upward, voter turnout will remain low in Indiana, even if we go to 24-hour polling.