One can be forgiven for thinking that the only thing they will hear about for the next eight (8) months when they tune into their favorite national news channel is discussion surrounding the 2020 Election Cycle. Being a Presidential Election year, the primary focus of 2020’s election coverage will certainly be on the White House. But just because this year will determine who will be sitting in the oval office in Washington, D.C. for the foreseeable future doesn’t mean that the impact of the election process will not be felt hundreds of miles away in Indiana. It’s worth remembering that the infrastructure for ensuring a safe, fair, and efficient election starts at home – in the Election Office of the County where you live.
The County Election Office is the hub of the election cycle. It is entrusted with carrying out the election process of every candidate on a ballot – from the primary race for your Town Clerk-Treasurer to the Indiana’s Congressional Senate seats, along with the race for President of the United States, of course. To keep up with this immense responsibility, the State legislature must take measures to review and update Indiana’s election laws. However, sometimes these updates – no doubt enacted with the best of intentions – can have some unwelcome, unintended consequences at the local level.
Perhaps the latest example came in 2019, when the Indiana General Assembly enacted a new law requiring that a County could not amend its voting precincts in such a way that would result in a precinct having less than six hundred (600) active voters. There were certain exceptions to this minimum requirement, such as if the precinct would consist of an entire County Commissioner District, County Council District, City Common Council District, or Town Council District.
On the surface, this new law (as codified in Ind. Code 3-11-1.5-3.1) seemed reasonable. Indiana’s average precinct size is slightly below eight hundred (800) active voters, so it did not appear to impose unreasonable expectations on County Election Offices looking to revisit the composition of their voting precincts. Furthermore, it presumed to ease administrative burdens of Election Offices having to monitor and keep up with countless, yet sparsely populated precincts throughout their jurisdiction.
However, it hasn’t even taken a year for the Indiana General Assembly to recognize serious flaws in its logic and propose amendments to try and fix the law.
Here is the problem: If a town or city annexes County territory, then the annexed area needs to be placed into different precincts in order for its residents to be eligible to vote in their new municipal district. However, removing those voters from their original County precinct oftentimes results in the County precinct having fewer than six hundred (600) active voters – and thus, in violation of Ind. Code 3-11-1.5-3.1. As you can imagine, this presents a dilemma to County Election Offices across Indiana.
In an attempt to fix this dilemma, various State Representatives have brought forth House Bill 1222. House Bill 1222 proposes that, when precincts have to be divided to account for an annexation of territory by a municipality, then a County Election Office does not have to worry about making sure that the affected precincts satisfy the six hundred (600) active voter requirement. Instead, they can disregard that rule and establish the precincts in the manner most efficient under the circumstances, without the restrictions of a certain voter number threshold.
Although this solves one problem, one can conclude that it simply makes it easier for municipalities to annex County territory, without having to worry as to annexation’s impact on affected County precincts.
Of course, House Bill 1222 is still making its way through the Indiana General Assembly, and still has a long way to go before we see it enacted into law. However, it will be interesting to see whether or not House Bill 1222 gets passed by our State Representatives and what (if any) new problems may arise for County Election Offices in the coming 2020 Election Cycle.