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When Hoosiers have more opportunities to vote, more Hoosiers vote. That’s the not-so-surprising takeaway from the 2018 election.

For years, Indiana has been at or near the bottom of the nation in terms of voter participation. There are many reasons for it. We have some of the shortest Election Day voting hours in the nation. Our voter registration process is cumbersome and ends just as many Hoosiers are beginning to pay attention to the upcoming election. If you want to vote by mail, it requires a signed affidavit. And, voting in person requires a state-approved identification and long waits in line.

We saw a glimmer of hope this year. Early vote centers in communities around the state allowed thousands of Hoosiers to vote at a time and location convenient for them and their lives. With this new flexibility, more Hoosiers voted in this mid-term election than in any other in recent memory.

All Hoosiers, especially state lawmakers, should take note.

It’s further proof that Hoosiers simply need more time and more options when it comes to casting their ballots. It’s not apathy. It’s not lack of interest. For many, it’s just the lack of time and ability to be in two places at once.

As the Indiana General Assembly convenes in January, this presents an opportunity for bipartisan action. Making long-overdue improvements to the state’s election laws to create more options for our citizens to participate should be the top priority of both political parties.

As I’ve long advocated, Indiana should take some common-sense steps that many other states have already adopted.

We can start by extending the hours in which Hoosiers can vote on Election Day. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., making it difficult for anyone working a job or two or shuttling children around to make it. By extending the hours until 8 or 9 p.m., we can accommodate more working Hoosiers in their efforts to vote. Indiana is one of just three states with such short polling hours. If the vast majority of other states can figure it out, surely we can.

We should also institute automatic voter registration at age 18 for all eligible U.S. citizens who reside in Indiana. Voting is a right, and Hoosiers shouldn’t have to fill out paperwork 29 days before an election to exercise it.

An expansion of acceptable identification for the purposes of voting should also be considered. There is no reason that identification cards issued by local, state or the federal government, the military or an Indiana college or university are not permitted. Current utility bills, bank statements, paychecks or other government documents that list the name and address of the voter should also be allowed. The current law is far too restrictive, leading to lower voter turnout. It must be fixed.

Lawmakers should also eliminate the needless and intimidating requirement that voters wishing to cast an absentee ballot to vote by mail sign an affidavit saying they can’t make it to the polling location on Election Day.

Finally, it’s time to create a permanent independent redistricting commission where nonpartisan delegates draw the electoral maps. It’s time for voters to pick their elected representatives again, rather the elected officials picking their voters. If, like me, you are tired of partisan extremists in office, this will be the cure.

An independent commission will make more congressional and legislative seats competitive, resulting in moderate candidates from both parties running for office and winning.

Indiana is better when more of us are at the table, working, communicating and plotting our futures together. This election proved that Hoosiers want to participate. They want to cast their ballots. They want to have their voices heard. They simply need to be given more opportunities to do so.

Let’s work together to demand we all have the chance to exercise our constitutional right to vote.

John Gregg is former speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives. The opinions are the writer's.

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Porter County Government Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.