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House committee takes step towards partisan school board elections, with local option

Voters wait in line outside a polling place, while a lawn sign in the foreground reads "Vote Here" with an arrow pointing towards the entrance.
FILE PHOTO: Steve Burns
Indiana is one of 41 states that currently bans partisan school board elections.

Forcing school board candidates to declare a political party took a step closer to reality in the Indiana House Elections Committee Wednesday.

Much of the testimony mirrored a Senate committee on the subject last week, though many more people showed up in support in the House.

Supporters of the idea said it creates greater transparency in school board elections. Opponents said it will inject hyper-partisanship into the process and discourage people from running.

The House legislation, HB 1428, attempts a compromise. It would allow individual school corporations to hold partisan elections in one of two ways. Either the school board could vote to move to partisan races or voters in that district could sign a petition to initiate a ballot referendum. The results of the referendum would then determine whether the school board races will be partisan.

The measure also allows partisan races in two ways, as determined by the vote of the school board or ballot referendum. School board candidates would either have to go through party primary elections or they would only have to run in general elections, but with partisan labels.

READ MORE: School board candidates forced to declare a political party under bill in Senate committee

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Rep. Alan Morrison (R-Brazil) said it’s about local control.

“There are some communities that want this and there are some communities that don’t," Morrison said. "Through this amendment, they will be able to make that choice.”

Rep. Tonya Pfaff (D-Terre Haute) said the entire concept is unnecessary.

“I’ve not had any constituent come up and say that they thought this was a good idea, either local control or period,” Pfaff said.

The committee approved the bill 6-4, with Rep. Bob Cherry (R-Greenfield) joining Democrats in opposition. The measure now heads to the House floor.

Brandon is our Statehouse bureau chief. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

Brandon Smith has covered the Statehouse for Indiana Public Broadcasting for more than a decade, spanning three governors and a dozen legislative sessions. He's also the host of Indiana Week in Review, a weekly political and policy discussion program seen and heard across the state. He previously worked at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and WSPY in Plano, Illinois. His first job in radio was in another state capitol - Jefferson City, Missouri - as a reporter for three stations around the Show-Me State.