As events related to the May primary election begin to unfold, a grassroots political action committee seeks to inform residents about the political process.
The group, called 92 County Strategy, is working to ensure that Hoosiers can successfully maneuver all levels of government through a campaign based on education.
While the committee's president lives in Dearborn County, 92 County Strategy's mission is statewide.
"Because Indiana has 92 counties it will take the effort of every single county to educate citizens about the process of government, about the process of civic engagement," said 92 County Strategy president Amanda Schutte, who lives in Guilford. "The goal is to educate the populace."
The political process is about to go full tilt in Southern Indiana and the rest of the state. Wednesday is the first day a candidate can file to run in the primary, sparking a busy election schedule right up until voters head to the polls May 8. Just as 92 County Strategy seeks to inform the masses, public outreach and education comes into sharper focus for local officials aiming for smooth sailing leading up to Election Day.
For Floyd County Clerk Christy Eurton, education is "very important" — especially since the county uses vote centers, which allow residents to cast a ballot at any of several centers located throughout the county, rather than a specific polling site.
"I try to educate residents of Floyd County any chance I get," Eurton stated in an email, which includes speaking at meetings to explain vote centers, registration deadlines, voting absentee by mail and touch screen machines. "Registration and duties of office will be the same in each county, but Floyd County is currently the only local county that is a vote center. With the same media market it is hard to explain to residents the difference."
Political action committees — and the layers of government — can be hard to explain, too.
"It's very confusing," said Valerie Warycha, spokeswoman for the Indiana Secretary of State's office. "People don't understand there is federal, local and state. We get a lot of questions about the different levels of government. So it doesn't just go to campaign finance, it's across the board."
The committees are formed for any number of reasons at all levels of government. According to Warycha, the most basic definition of a political action committee is an organization or group of individuals who have raised or spent more than $100 to influence the outcome of an election for an office or a public question. School referendums in Clark and Floyd counties have been fertile breeding grounds for the creation of political action committees.
"We typically do not see any PACs unless there is a hot topic," Eurton said. "They typically deal with an issue."
The same holds true for Clark County.
"Usually it's when something is going on," Clark County Clerk Susan Popp said.
Floyd County has a total of eight open political action committees; Clark County tallies nine.
A whole other category centers around federal campaigns. A political action committee must register with the Federal Election Commission once it has raised or spent more than $1,000 in connection with a federal election.
Indiana has 69 such committees — the only one of Southern Indiana significance being the American Commercial Barge Line PAC, with an address of 1701 E. Market St., Jeffersonville. In 2017, the committee contributed $2,500 to Friends of Trey, a principal campaign committee in support of Republican U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth's campaign.
92 County Strategy is unique in that it claims to be nonpartisan, with a progressive mentality.
"We don't push party, we push specific issues," Schutte said.
The group was formed nearly a year ago, but the inspiration for its creation came in 2014, when Indiana had the lowest midterm election voter turnout in the United States, at 29 percent. Dearborn County was among the lowest turnouts in the state that year. Schutte and other volunteers began to brainstorm and "came up with a plan basically instead of trying to influence elections, per se, to try to influence public knowledge."
That's done mostly through the Internet, with the group hosting an "activist hour" at 9 p.m. every second and fourth Thursday of the month on Facebook Live. On Jan. 11, the group will launch a series about Robert's Rules of Order. Practically everything 92 County Strategy does is of no charge.
"Knowledge is free if you can find someone who has it and is willing to give it," Schutte said.
While the primary is just around the corner, 92 County Strategy is there year-round — election season or not.
"Not everybody is an activist. Not everybody is a volunteer," Schutte said. "But there is a spot for everybody out there, if they know what spots are out there."