The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, March 16, 2016 7:37 am

Officials: Voters, competitiveness in short supply

Niki Kelly The Journal Gazette

Allen County Elections Director Beth Dlug got the best night’s sleep on election night that she can remember.

"We got done early," she said.

Of course, the reason she and her staff weren’t up late is because there were so few votes to count.

Not even 20,000 people cast ballots out of 201,390 – a dismal 9.8 percent turnout.

Dlug said her records go back to 1988, and this is the lowest turnout she can document.

She said a nationwide study last year on voter turnout repeatedly came back to competitive races.

"People will come out for races. They get excited," she said.

But simply having opposition doesn’t make it competitive.

"(Turnout) sucked," said IPFW political scientist Andrew Downs. "It’s a problem nationwide. One of the largest contributing factors is a lack of competitive races. People are running. They just don’t have a chance of winning."

Allen County isn’t the only place suffering. In 2011, the statewide primary turnout was just 9 percent. Tuesday’s election turnout in Marion County hit 7 percent.

In Woodburn, in northeast Allen County, 71 votes was the winning tally for a returning mayor. Woodburn’s population is 1,520.

In northeast Indiana counties, turnout ranged from 7 percent to 22 percent. The high number belonged to Huntington County, which moved to a vote center model this year and highly publicized the election. Vote centers consolidate precincts into a few spots around a county but allow a voter to cast a vote wherever they choose. 

"Other nations who treasure the right to vote ... look at what is happening in this country – here and statewide and nationally – as pathetic," said Allen County Republican Party Chairman Steve Shine. "We are asking men and women to lay down their lives to fight for freedom and stand up to tyranny, and yet when it comes to exercising our rights, we are very remiss in doing so."

Downs also notes the dirty secret of politics – it costs less to court fewer voters. He said that from a civic standpoint, everyone wants the most people to show up.

"From a campaigning standpoint, I want the fewest people to show up that gives me a victory," he said. "I am not going to expand the electorate, because it costs me money."

Shine didn’t deny the reality of the statement.

He said Indiana’s requirement that voters must declare a party in the primary leads to a much smaller campaigning effort.

"Candidates reach out to known voters rather than a wider swath of voters," Shine said. "I might scale back on messaging to individuals less likely to show up on election day and concentrate on people sure to vote. That cuts back on the message to the masses."

He said an open primary would require candidates to get a general message out to a wider audience, and might create more interest and turnout.


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