RICH JAMES: Blame state, not Lake, for low voter turnout

2014-05-14T00:00:00Z 2014-05-14T23:49:24Z RICH JAMES: Blame state, not Lake, for low voter turnoutBy Rich James nwitimes.com
May 14, 2014 12:00 am  • 

You may have heard that just 12.8 percent of Lake County’s registered voters cast ballots during the May 6 primary election.

Don’t believe it.

That 12.8 percent is based on the assumption there are about 350,000 registered voters in the county.

There might be 350,000 names on the registration rolls, but there aren’t that many eligible to vote. Thousands of those folks no longer live here.

In other words, the registration rolls are inflated – terribly inflated.

What bothers me is the public perception that voter apathy is worse than it is, and that the people in Lake County are a bunch of deadbeats.

In other words, we are the worst of the worst.

I’m not sure how many actual registered voters there are in Lake County. No one else does either.

Having followed the political process for decades, I’d say there are no more than 300,000 registered voters in the county. I’d also say 250,000 is a better guess. The population is just 491,000. Many are kids.

If there are 250,000 registered voters, then the primary turnout was 17.6 percent.

But don’t blame the people at the voter registration office. They are good folks who do their jobs well.

Blame the system.

As it should be, it’s not easy to remove a name from the registration rolls. Taking away a person’s vote is a frightening thing.

It has been 10 years since the state authorized Lake County to conduct a countywide voter purge. It was an expensive, but successful, operation.

Every registered voter received a card. If there was no response, the person was placed on an inactive list.

And if they didn’t vote in the next two general elections (a four-year cycle), they were purged from the rolls.

The state hasn’t authorized a purge since. And if it did, there’s a question whether the county could afford it.

The voter registration people say the biggest problem is with apartment dwellers – who are more transient than homeowners. And about a fourth of the people in Lake County live in apartments, according to the 2010 Census.

The State Voter Registration System that was instituted in 2006 helps counties fight bloated registration rolls.

For instance, if a person moves from Lake County to Porter County and registers to vote there, the state will take notice and notify Lake County.

The fact that there are so many names on the registration rolls is a tribute to the political parties for actively registering voters.

If the state cared about inflated registration rolls, it should pay to fix the problem.

The May 6 turnout was pathetic, but better than the 12.8 percent that was reported.

The registration rolls can be fixed. Voter apathy is another question.

Perhaps the Legislature should look at the problem, including the possibility of open primaries, voting by mail and voting via Internet.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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