(Terre Haute) Tribune-Star. Nov. 6

Partisanship gives rise to straight-ticket voting

Vigo Countians built a reputation for splitting their votes between Republicans, Democrats and occasionally third-party candidates.

Republican presidential candidates Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush carried Vigo County, while voters also backed Democrats for numerous county and state offices. When Bush 41 carried this county in 1988, so did Democrat Evan Bayh for governor.

Voters have grown less willing to select candidates from both parties on their ballots. The trend is a reflection of the nation, where polarization runs deep. It showed up in Vigo County in this fall’s election.

The surge of straight-ticket voting first emerged locally in the 2016 election, when Republican reality TV star and real estate mogul Donald Trump carried Vigo County and won the presidency. A total of 16,844 voters cast all-Republican, all-Democratic or all-Libertarian ballots that year, out of 40,699 total votes cast. That was 41.4% of the local electorate.

Two years later, a nearly identical 41.5% of Vigo Countians voted straight-ticket in the 2018 midterm election.

Those marked the highest levels of straight-ticket voting here since at least 1998. The only election that came close was 2008, when 33.6% of voters chose the all-one-party option.

Partisanship has grown stiffer. In this fall’s election, almost half of Vigo County voters — 46.2% — stuck with one party or the other through straight-ticket voting.

Of course, the party that benefits most from the staunchly partisan voting tends to extol its virtues. This year, Trump’s party reaped the rewards of his popularity in Vigo County. Trump captured 56% of the vote in the county over Democrat Joe Biden, and most Republican candidates for county-wide and statewide offices received similar winning percentages from voters here.

Just as in 2016 and 2018, more Republicans (11,744) voted straight-ticket than did Democrats (8,206).

The local Democratic Party cannot simply attribute the lopsided outcome to the pervasiveness of Trumpism. Vigo Democrats have been fractured since a bitter 2007 mayoral election, and the split continues to leave the party competing against itself and Republicans. The Democrats managed victories in a handful of races this fall, including an Indiana House seat, county coroner and all three Vigo County Council at-large seats, as well as two uncontested judgeships.

But the 2020 results were clearly a Republican rout.

It is heartening to see a competitive, rising Republican Party in the county. A strong two-party system signals a healthy democracy. Republicans have vaulted in front of Democrats locally. The GOP now holds the offices of Terre Haute mayor; county prosecutor, clerk, auditor, recorder, treasurer, and two commissioner seats; the local Indiana Senate seat; and all but one of the local Indiana House seats. Democrats once held most of those offices.

That role reversal is healthy also. It should spark efforts by Democrats to continually bolster their tickets. Such recruitment by both parties benefits the citizenry.

Partisan division is not a benefit, though. The number of states allowing straight-ticket voting has dwindled, according to the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures. Indiana is one of only six states allowing voters to pick all candidates from one party with a single ballot mark. Sixteen states have abolished all straight-ticket voting, or in part. Indiana stopped straight-ticket voting in at-large races in 2016.

The polarization of America certainly plays at least a partial role in the growth of straight-ticket voting in Vigo County. Nationwide, a mere 4% of Americans said they would vote for Trump or Biden and a U.S. Senate candidate from the opposing party, according to a Pew Research Center survey last month. Four years ago, Vigo Countians favored both Trump for president and Democrat Evan Bayh for Senate.

The best-case scenario for the future is for both parties to field candidates that entice voters to pick and choose. A diversity of views, negotiating and compromise leads to better governing.


The Herald Bulletin. Nov. 5

Indiana must improve nursing home oversight

As detailed in a special report recently by CNHI News Indiana, the state’s oversight of nursing homes was lax in the months and years before the pandemic hit.

Once COVID-19 set in, general monitoring of the homes ground to a halt as the state was directed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to focus on containing outbreaks. Residents and their families were left in the dark about whether nursing homes were conforming to federal patient safety standards.

Hoosiers deserve better. State inspections and complaint investigations should be frequent, thorough and timely.

But that’s not the way it’s been in Indiana.

Among the six Midwest region states, ours ranked worst over the summer for conducting federal surveys on time, records show. In September, 44 of the state’s 535 nursing homes hadn’t undergone the rigorous federal inspection for a year and a half or longer. Included in that group were two facilities with past abuse allegations and several facilities with 1-star ratings, the lowest level possible.

Overall, 92 nursing homes in Indiana are saddled with that rating. Because of extensive histories of poor resident care, 18 are candidates for a federal program of intense state oversight.

After the pandemic’s onset, CMS directed states to continue investigating “immediate jeopardy” complaints — ones requiring prompt on-site investigation because of potential for further harm. But federal statistics show Indiana rarely categorizes complaints as that serious.

In 2015, according to an inspector general report, our state rated just 1% of complaint cases as immediate jeopardy and 35% as high priority, the next level down. Nationwide, half of all nursing home complaints were rated in those categories.

By its own analysis in 2018, Indiana also fails to utilize fully its Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, in which the state contracts with agencies to serve as nursing home resident advocates by responding to and investigating resident complaints.

The state’s failure to inspect nursing homes regularly and to investigate serious complaints quickly can have profound consequences in communities across Indiana.

Over 18 months beginning in 2018 at Golden Living Center Muncie, a series of complaints shed light on inadequate staffing and supervision, leaving the home’s memory care patients at risk of wandering away, suffering dangerous falls and being sexually assaulted.

The health, safety and dignity of Indiana’s nursing home residents should be paramount. The pandemic has heightened anxiety, and the state’s response has brought mixed results.

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Indiana had the highest rate of resident deaths from COVID-19 (60.6 per 1,000) through Oct. 11, compared to neighboring states Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois.

While the pandemic has slowed nursing home inspections and complaint investigations across the country, Indiana’s sluggish oversight is largely to blame for creating the state’s backlog of hundreds of inspections.

Hoosier nursing home residents deserve the very best care. The governor and the state health department should work diligently together to make sure they get it.


(Logansport) Pharos-Tribune. Nov. 4

To their credit, candidates in the Howard, Cass, Miami and Tipton county elections refrained from the kind of mudslinging we’ve come to expect before Election Day.

They spoke about issues, but to a great extent Tuesday’s election was about qualifications. Voters were left to decide which candidate from either the Republican or Democratic parties could best carry out the duties of the office.

Of course, that isn’t the case everywhere. Tune in to one of the cable news channels, and negative campaigning is the order of the day. Too often the Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns are about who can distort the truth with the greatest effectiveness.

In a perfect world, political candidates would stay focused on the issues, and they would resist the temptation to sling mud. But the sad fact is negative campaigning works. In a contest for those last few undecided voters, all sense of fair play seems to go out the window.

Still, with all of its faults, the American political process is the best the world has to offer, and the issues debated at a community or county level are perhaps the most important we face. Voters Tuesday gave the winners the opportunity to make decisions that will determine the sort of communities we live in.

Congratulations to the winners, but thanks to everyone who stepped up as a candidate, especially those whose campaigns came up short.

Without their willingness to risk rejection at the polls, we could not have a discussion of issues facing our communities, and it’s that discussion that is at the heart of the democratic process. We salute these candidates and urge all of them to stay involved in the critical business of local government.

It’s worth noting at this point there’s a reason elected officials are called public servants. This is the public’s business they’ll be conducting in 2021 and beyond, and we urge all of them to keep that in mind in the months and years ahead.

It’s often tempting when things get difficult to take the discussion behind closed doors, but we urge Tuesday’s victors who’ll take office in the new year to resist that urge. The public’s business is best conducted in the full light of day.

Public bodies should keep their discussions open and above board, and they should make sure public records always remain accessible to all.