The Indiana Bar Foundation released the 2021 Indiana Civic Health Index this week. It's an analysis of the state’s trends of civic engagement in the last decade, as well as recommendations for improving civic participation.
The Indiana Bar Foundation defines civic health as a measure of how active citizens engage in their communities. This includes volunteering, participation in community decision making, political engagement, letters to the editor, and diverse media consumption surrounding public policy.
The Indiana Civic Health Index reviews the state’s civic engagement, including voter registration, community involvement and civic awareness.
The 2021 index shows that Indiana’s voter turnout ranking fell in the last five years, ranking among the bottom five in the nation. Some of this has to do with restrictive voting laws and low registration rates.
Ellen Szarleta is the director of the Center for Urban and Regional Excellence and the primary author of the report. She said the data shows that voter registration should be a top priority moving forward.
“It's very clear that when people do take the step to register, they have that incentive to become more informed, and then ultimately, to participate in the vote in the democratic process,” Szarleta said. “So I see it as an opportunity for us to think creatively about how we can bring together those two pieces to have the best civic health in the state of Indiana.”
Some of the recommendations include the establishment of a school certification program to improve civic education, to provide high quality professional development opportunities to teachers, and to increase community and education partnerships. It also emphasizes prioritization of youth engagement in democratic processes.
“When we did finally decide that the civic index ought to make some recommendations,” former Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall Shepard said, “number one was to expand the level of education that young people get to create a platform for them.”
The Indiana Civic Health Index has been published biennially since 2011. Many of the recommendations build on those from previous years.
The index is a product of a collaboration that includes Indiana University Northwest, Indiana Bar Foundation, and the Indiana Citizen Education Foundation, among others.