2020 was a quiet year on the website, with a lot of planned data collection, research, and writing getting pushed to the back-burner as I dealt with working from home with two kids who weren’t going to daycare; preparing for a third kid to arrive; and completing a Master’s degree. In the last month, though, I’ve finished the degree, my newborn son is here, and I have a little bit more free time.

I’ve spent a lot of that free time preparing to add a lot of new things to the website, and doing some research so that I can start writing articles again (side note: Hoosiers: A New History of Indiana by James Madison is an excellent book that has given me some ideas you’ll see soon). I’ve quietly been adding some data to the site already, and published a few new tools. Here is a quick overview of what is new on the site in the past few weeks.

New officeholders and a discussion of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Back in November I added all new legislators to the database; on January 3 I added the new members of our congressional delegation; and today I updated the Attorney General listing to reflect Todd Rokita taking the oath of office. But this raised a question about what to do with the Superintendent of Public Instruction, which today became known as the Secretary of Education and became an appointed, rather than elected, position for the first time in state history.

I contemplated listing the office as defunct, as I have with some congressional district seats Indiana no longer has. I also considered creating Secretary of Education as a new office, though I don’t track other cabinet-level positions in state government. But ultimately I decided to keep the position listed as Superintendent of Public Instruction, and merely track the appointments as part of that continuing list. The reasons why can be found in the Indiana Constitution.

Generally, the offices of Governor, Lt. Governor, Treasurer, Auditor, and Secretary of State are considered “constitutional” offices because their duties, terms of service, and so on are defined in the Indiana Constitution. The offices of Superintendent of Public Instruction and Attorney General are considered “statutory” offices because they are defined by statute, and not the Constitution.

However, the Constitution isn’t totally silent on the Superintendent. Article 8, Section 8, establishes the position to be the head of education in the state, though the “method of selection, tenure, duties and compensation” is left to statute. Further, Article 5, Section 10(f) also lists the Superintendent in the gubernatorial order of succession (which goes to the Lt. Governor, then the Speaker of the House, the Senate President pro tempore, the State Treasurer, the State Auditor, the Secretary of State, and finally to the Superintendent of Public Instruction; it’s worth noting that the Attorney General, which is not established in the Constitution, is not part of this line of succession).

So while the name was changed to Secretary of Education (and the method of selection is now gubernatorial appointment) under statute (IC 20-19-1-1.1), that same statute also makes clear that for Constitutional purposes the Secretary of Education is the Superintendent of Public Instruction. So I have decided to leave this office as an active office on the website, and have noted that Katie Jenner is succeeding Jennifer McCormick as of today.

(It’s also worth noting that under the state’s original 1816 Constitution, the offices of Auditor, Treasurer, and Secretary of State were elected by the legislature, and not the general public; the 1851 Constitution changed that, and created the Superintendent, so there is already precedent for listing officeholders who weren’t popularly elected in the database)

A chart of women serving in legislative history

A few years ago, I wrote a piece that detailed the history of women serving in the Indiana General Assembly. In the article was a graph that showed the increase in the number of female legislators over time. As this the 100th year since the first woman was elected to the House of Representatives, I have now made this a permanent, interactive graph on it’s own page, and that automatically updates itself. It can be found in the Visualizations section of the website.

Indiana Voter Turnout tool

Another new visualization tool looks at voter turnout statewide and by county over time. One of my takeaways from the Madison book I mentioned in the intro is that through most of the 1800’s, and well into the 1900’s, Indiana was regularly a national leader in voter turnout (sometimes cresting 90%). Now, however, we regularly find our state in the bottom 20% of all states. Without getting into the reasons why this may be the case, I did want to build a tool that allows others to better see what this trend looks like over time.

To that end, this tool allows for several different ways of looking at voter turnout data in a way that makes trends readily apparent. The data currently only goes back to 2002, but I’ve starting collecting information going back several decades that I hope to load in over the next few months. I think there is a lot to glean from this data, and many ways to slice it, so stay tuned.

Coming soon: State Judicial officers

I’ll close with a quick preview of the next big addition to the site. It’s long been my goal to add State Supreme Court and Appellate Court judges to the database. Not only are they the third branch of government, but for most of our state history both courts were elected offices, as well. As I’ve started gathering data here, I’ve come across many fascinating personalities and stories, and there will be a wealth of information to share about the history of our court.

I hope to have the Supreme Court justices loaded in within the next week or so, and the Appellate justices loaded in sometime soon. Later this year, the Indiana Historical Society Press is releasing a book with short biographical sketches of all the Appellate Court justices, and I was fortunate enough to contribute to that effort. I’ll try to have this section of the website completed before the book is published.