Kokomo state Sen. James Buck says the amount of money that goes into electing Indiana’s U.S. senators is disturbing.
“In the last few election cycles, it has alarmed me to see how much money is flowing into our different parties,” Buck told senators on the elections committee last week. “Running for office is becoming very, very difficult for people that don’t have the ability or the time because of their desire to earn a livelihood.”
The Republican has filed a bill that would expand the use of conventions in Indiana to include choosing the U.S. senator candidates, instead of in the parties’ primaries.
By using delegates for party nominations, Buck said he hoped to take the influence of money and the media out of the process.
“These are all real people; they all have a real heart,” Buck said. “You’re going to have a hard time buying them off.”
William Blomquist, a political science professor at Indiana University, said delegates can either be elected by their precinct or, in places with no viable candidates, be selected by their county party chairperson.
“So the delegates are typically … active volunteers in their party,” Blomquist said. “They’re not a random sampling of the precinct … they’re people who clearly have a loyalty to the party and some level of participation.”
But the convention process allows for party candidates to narrow their focus, Blomquist said. Instead of trying to convince thousands of Hoosiers to elect them in a primary, candidates can focus on convincing hundreds of delegates at a one-day convention using a more “modest budget.”
“One of the arguable advantages is that it allows for at least some candidate-to-delegate contact,” Blomquist said. “And the presumption is that the delegates know more and care more than the typical registered voter.”
Both Blomquist and Buck said that the use of primaries versus conventions had changed over time, leaning toward more primaries. Blomquist said he wasn’t aware of other states attempting to go back to a convention process.
“The move has been choosing nominees through primaries,” Blomquist said. “In fact, Indiana stands out among states for the number of candidates we still choose through conventions.”
Six of Indiana’s statewide offices are chosen through the convention process. Only the governor’s office is elected through a primary process.
Michigan nominates three candidates through the convention process: the lieutenant governor, the secretary of state and the attorney general, according to a 2019 report analyzing conventions from the Office of Legislative Research in Connecticut.
Other states use conventions for other purposes, including endorsements or narrowing down the field if no party candidate wins the nomination outright in the primary election process.
Still, Blomquist said he didn’t see the same enthusiasm for conventions from average Hoosiers, who might not appreciate having an election process taken away.
“If this change occurs, it will be in spite of voters’ preferences,” Blomquist said.
Senate committee members didn’t seem open to changing the process either.
“I would prefer to leave this in the hands of voters to make this decision,” Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, told Buck. “(This) takes away (the voter’s) opportunity to select a candidate in favor of 1,700 candidates.”
Sen. Greg Walker, the chair of the elections committee, encouraged Buck to gain the support of more senators before bringing it up before members again. The bill doesn’t appear on the committee’s schedule for Thursday.