29 min read

Crossover Voting in the Statehouse

tags: politics


The state of Indiana provides information on all bills introduced and debated by the Indiana House and Senate. Anyone can go to the General Assembly website, navigate to a particular bill, find each vote and amendment attached to it, and then view how each member of the chamber voted. This may seem like a straightforward process, and in theory it is.

However, the data is not in the most accessible format (PDF list of last names) and lacks the context needed to really understand what’s going on at the statehouse.

Today I am going to show you what a better vote reporting mechanism could look like for the state. In the process of doing so, I will also show how looking at votes by party and district on an interactive map uncovers some interesting trends that you may not be aware of—even if you follow Indiana politics fairly closely. I discovered that there is much more disagreement within the parties than I expected.

My Process

There are hundreds of bills authored each session so I decided to hone in on just six example bills for this analysis. Each bill was on a controversial topic where there are generally polarized opinions between the two party structures and (sometimes) their voting bases. For each bill, I looked at the “final” vote in the process to give the best indicator of how each legislator fell on the issue.

This “final” vote was after all amendments were offered and either accepted or rejected. If you want to see the source document for each of the votes, I link to them in “Analysis” section later on.

Here are the six I selected.

HB 1041 - Transgender Athletes

This bill attempted to ban transgender girls (born assigned male sex at birth, now identify as girls) from participating on girls’ school sports teams.

HB 1134 - Anti-CRT and Education Transparency

This was one of many bills aimed at banning so-called “Critical Race Theory” from Indiana classrooms. While the definition of what exactly was being banned is up for debate, the particular section of the bill reading “shall not promote as part of a course of instruction or in a curriculum or instructional program the concept that an individual, by virtue of sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin, is inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by other members of the same sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin” was among the most controversial provisions.

I also included “education transparency” in the title because there were pieces requiring schools and teachers to be generally more open and accessible about what they are specifically teaching in the classroom, regardless of the topic.

SB 17 - Removing Prosecution Protection for Libraries

A companion to HB 1134, SB 17 took aim at school and public libraries. Those institutions have historically had special protections guarding them from prosecution regarding the dissemination of materials that some (particularly parents) might find offensive or objectionable content for children. If they were sued, they can claim this special protection.

This bill would remove that special status.

HB 1217 - Coerced Abortion Requirements

HB 1217 would add some requirements for abortion providers. Providers would have to ask patients if the abortion was coerced, give information about the illegality of coercion, and communicate with authorities if it was suspected. Penalties for coercing an abortion were also increased.

HB 1296 - Remove Handgun Permit Requirement

This bill was simple. It aimed to remove the requirement that handgun purchasers must obtain a license to carry a gun.

HB 1300 - Charitable Bail Organization Restrictions

Finally, HB 1300’s goal was to reduce the number of people a charitable bail organization could bail out in a particular time period and restrict who they could bail out based on the offense committed.

As I mentioned in the introduction, the roll call of votes provided by the state is simply a PDF list of last names. In order to do this analysis, Hannah News Service was kind enough to provide me with vote data in tabular format making this a much easier process. Big thanks to them.

One final note: I am not a legislative analyst. The point of this post is not to get into the weeds on the specifics of this or that bill. It’s also not to tell you what I think about any of the particular provisions. The point is to demonstrate:

  1. That we need better visibility into how votes are playing out, by party and by district

  2. There is more disagreement within the parties on major issues, when usually the only thing talked about is disagreement between the parties

Product

I created two interactive maps in Tableau (example shown above) that show votes by district and party: a Senate version and a House version. You can view those maps here (quick note that these maps work best on desktop).

INTERACTIVE SENATE MAP

INTERACTIVE HOUSE MAP

The districts shown on the maps are the districts that are currently in use. The new districts (created through the 2022 redistricting process) will come into use after the midterm elections this November.

Analysis

Two main points emerge when looking at the voting data. First, more Republicans voted against their party on controversial issues than you probably realize, particularly in the Senate. Below are three bills where a significant share of Republicans strayed from the party line.

Take HB 1041 for example, the bill seeking to bar transgender school girls from participating on girls’ sports teams. This was a high profile issue that became a top priority for Republican legislatures across the country. The New York Times reported that 18 states have passed laws or created rules to achieve this goal.

Despite all of that, seven Indiana Senate Republicans voted against the final version of the bill. That represents 18% of the Senate Republican caucus–a significant share of defections from the party line.

HB1041 - Senate
Party & Vote Vote Count Bill
Democrat - No 11 HB1041
Republican - No 7 HB1041
Republican - Yes 32 HB1041
 

A similar number of Republicans also voted against HB 1296, which removed handgun license requirements in the state. Despite the party’s clear positions on defending Second Amendment rights, nine GOP Senators voted no.

HB1296 - Senate
Party & Vote Vote Count Bill
Democrat - No 11 HB1296
Republican - No 9 HB1296
Republican - Yes 30 HB1296
 

SB 17–the library content immunity bill–also showed a higher than expected number of defections with 5 GOP Senators voting against.

SB17 - Senate
Party & Vote Vote Count Bill
Democrat - No 10 SB17
Democrat - Not Voting 1 SB17
Republican - No 5 SB17
Republican - Yes 34 SB17
 

Even if you follow politics closely in this state, I’ll bet you didn’t expect that much disagreement within the state’s controlling party. But it’s not only Republicans voting like this, some Democrats went against their party as well.

In the House version of HB 1296 (removing handgun licensing), Rita Fleming of House District 71 (Jeffersonville) voted yes, a surprise move for any Democrat. Even Joe Manchin, the Democratic US Senator from West Virginia often maligned for more conservative views, supports licenses for guns among other restrictions.

HB1296 - House
Party & Vote Count of Votes Bill
Democrat - No 27 HB1296
Democrat - Not Voting 1 HB1296
Democrat - Yes 1 HB1296
Republican - No 3 HB1296
Republican - Yes 68 HB1296
 

There were also several House Democrats–four to be exact–joining most Republicans in supporting HB 1300, the bill restricting the activity of charitable bail organizations.

HB1300 - House
Party & Vote Count of Votes Bill
Democrat - No 24 HB1300
Democrat - Not Voting 1 HB1300
Democrat - Yes 4 HB1300
Republican - No 3 HB1300
Republican - Not Voting 4 HB1300
Republican - Yes 64 HB1300
 

The most crossover between the two parties among these bills occurred in the House on HB 1217, the bill adding reporting requirements in the case of a suspected coerced abortion. On that vote, ten Democrats joined all but one Republican in support.

HB1217 - Senate
Party & Vote Count of Votes Bill
Democrat - No 16 HB1217
Democrat - Not Voting 3 HB1217
Democrat - Yes 10 HB1217
Republican - No 1 HB1217
Republican - Not Voting 5 HB1217
Republican - Yes 65 HB1217
 

Again, the point here is not to analyze why this happens or any particulars of these bills in question, but rather to simply point out that crossover voting is happening. Whether you think that’s good or bad depends on the bill in question and your point of view.

I rarely see discussion about agreement between the two parties in local media or on social media. My guess is that stems from simply not knowing that it happens.

Conclusion

Creating maps with attached downloadable data would be a simple way to improve transparency and empower citizens to keep their legislators accountable. In addition, these maps would allow voters to see when their legislators are bucking their own party and potentially create opportunities for more constructive dialogue between people who often disagree.

-Aaron