Homeowner Association Bill Could Limit Political Activity

Apr 2, 2015

Andrew Downs, Director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at IPFW.
Credit Courtesy / Andrew Downs

On March 23rd, the Committee on Elections in the Indiana Senate voted 6-0 to send House Bill 1236 to the full Senate for consideration.  Back on January 27th, HB 1236 cleared the Indiana House of Representatives on a vote of 70 to 28.  These are indicators that this bill will become a law. 

HB 1236 will allow homeowner associations to prohibit candidates and office holders from entering the property to conduct political activity if the homeowner association controls access to the property and if the common areas are privately owned and maintained. 

When I read this legislation, two thoughts entered my mind. 

First, there might be some homeowner associations disappointed by this legislation because of the word “and.”  Only those homeowner associations that control access AND have roads and sidewalks that are privately owned and maintained will be allowed to prohibit political activity.  Perhaps this legislation will spur some associations to buy up some roads and sidewalks or begin to control access in a more formal manner.  Even if that happens, it is not going to be a large number of people who live in areas that fall under this legislation. 

Second, this legislation is understandable given Hoosiers’ respect for property rights.  This legislation will allow an association to extend what many would consider to be an acceptable action by a homeowner to the land that is owned by the association. 

I posted a summary of the bill and a link to it on the comment board outside my office.  It did not take long for someone to write a comment:

"We should be encouraging political activity and participation, not allowing it to be banned (prohibited...same diff.)."

This comment brought to mind something I have told people running for office for years: most voters have never had a candidate visit them at their home.  This is true in spite of the many candidates who walk neighborhoods every election year.  The reality is that most political jurisdictions have so many constituents that even candidates with an aggressive door-to-door effort can meet only a fraction of all of the voters.  

In spite of the fact that candidates can meet only a fragment of their constituency by going door-to-door, I still encourage candidates to walk neighborhoods and meet voters.  I encourage this in part because every election I hear voters complain about how hard it can be to find good information about candidates.  This can be true for many offices, especially those that are not at the top of the ballot.  The result is that many consider the “price” to become an informed voter too high and they don't cast a ballot. 

One low-cost way to become an informed voter is to talk with the candidates who walk your neighborhood.  The people (legislators and homeowners) who are supporting HB 1236 may say that this is not low-cost because you have to give up privacy and you have to deal with candidates you may not like coming to your house.  That certainly is a cost that would have to go into the equation. 

This legislation is enabling legislation.  In other words, even if it passes, qualified homeowner associations will have to take action to prohibit political activity.  There is no doubt that some will, but I am willing to bet that some will not.

 

Andrew Downs is Director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at IPFW.

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