More than twice as many people have taken advantage of early voting in Allen County this year than at this time in 2014.
Numbers obtained from the Allen County Election Board show that 5,696 people have voted early at Rousseau Centre in downtown Fort Wayne so far this election cycle.
At this period in 2014 – when the county had a similar election – 2,198 voters had cast an early ballot, Beth Dlug, Allen County's director of elections, said Wednesday.
“The first day this year we had 400 (early voters),” Dlug said. “The first day in 2014 we had 100.”
The number of ballots cast averaged in the 400s each day since early voting began Oct. 10. That number has increased to around 600 a day this week, Dlug said.
It's not just in-person early voting, either. There's also been an uptick in the number of mailed absentee ballots.
“At this time in 2014 we had sent out about 4,400 ballots,” Dlug said. “This year we have 7,831 sent out. We got 3,500 back already.”
Dlug attributed the increase in early voters to efforts by third-party groups including both major political parties and other organizations that have been pushing absentee voting by mail and other get-out-the-vote efforts.
The Allen County Democratic Party has been visible at community events helping to register people to vote and engaging in voter education, Chairwoman Misti Meehan said. Leading into the Nov. 6 election, the party has practice runs in their get-out-the-vote plan and is offering rides to voters who need to get to the polls. The party has already given rides to some voters taking advantage of early voting, Meehan said.
“If early voting is any indication, we're in a good spot because the turnout is just phenomenal,” Meehan said.
Steve Shine, head of the Allen County Republican Party, described his party's get-out-the-vote efforts as “very fine-tuned” with precinct committee members working overtime to turn out Republican votes.
“We're delighted with the early voting numbers that we can gather. According to our anecdotal data, the number of Republicans voting early is greater than Democrats,” Shine said. “That tracks with what is going on nationwide, where early voters have been identified in greater numbers for Republicans than for Democrats.”
Shine said the county Republican Party has had regular precinct meetings and has an energized precinct organization.
“They understand the importance of this election and they are committed to turning out every Republican vote that is possible in their respective precincts,” Shine said.
But early voting numbers aren't necessarily an indicator of increased voter turnout, said Andrew Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Purdue Fort Wayne.
“What a lot of literature shows is that people who are voting early are people who would have voted anyway,” Downs said. “They're simply taking advantage of the convenience.”
In the past, researchers would have looked at mailed absentee ballots as an indicator of whether voter turnout would be higher in a particular election, Downs said. But with the advent of early voting and new technologies, it's harder to predict Election Day turnout.
“I would contend that campaigns are more conscious and more active in trying to get early voting generally, which might mean a mailed ballot for some folks,” Downs said.
However, Downs said there are other indications of greater voter participation. Larger numbers of candidates running for office; the number of people who volunteered to run for office as opposed to being recruited as a candidate; and the activeness of the campaigns can all help indicate turnout numbers.
Downs said there appears to be some anecdotal evidence of higher interest and more activity during this election cycle.
Both Shine and Meehan said early voting is important for Fort Wayne.
“We are a very working-class community. That means our shifts are all over the place,” Meehan said. “Having early voting at the Rousseau Centre and the additional satellite locations are crucial for what our community is.”
Early voting affords people the “luxury and convenience” of voting when their schedule allows, eliminating the common excuse that a voter was too busy to vote on Election Day, Shine said.
“It encourages participation. I'm grateful for the expansion of early voting laws to allow for voting to occur weeks in advance of standard Election Day and I think it's good for the democratic process,” Shine said.
Early voting continues at Rousseau Centre through Nov. 5. Voters will be able to vote at any of four satellite locations beginning Oct. 31.