By Seth Fleming
INDIANAPOLIS—Only one in five Hoosiers who are registered to vote cast ballots in the May primary election, continuing a trend of low voter turnout in Indiana.
Of the state’s 4.4 million registered voters, 870,336 cast ballots on May 8, which saw one of the most contentious contests in the nation when three Republicans battled for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate.
In that race, former state Rep. Mike Braun, who touted his business credentials, beat U.S. Reps. Todd Rokita and Luke Messer by a comfortable margin.
Even though the turnout was relatively low, it was up substantially from the 13 percent who voted in the 2014 midterm elections.
“It’s candidates and issues that push people to the polls,” said Valerie Warycha, spokesperson for the Election Division of the Secretary of State’s office.
“Contested statewide and county races across the state brought voters from both parties out in significant numbers, and thanks to the preparations made by clerks and election administrators in all 92 counties, Indiana’s reputation for safe and efficient elections continues,” said Secretary of State Connie Lawson in a news release.
But Laura Merrifield Wilson, assistant professor of political science at the University of Indianapolis, noted that 20 percent isn’t a particularly strong turnout.
“Historically we have ranked among the lowest in the union with getting registered voters out to the polls,” Wilson said. “We were among the top 15 in lowest voter turnout in 2016 and we had the lowest voter turnout in the 2014 in the general election.”
Age, income and education are usually the factors that determine voter turnout, but Indiana falls in the middle of those categories, Wilson said.
“I think part of it is our institutions. You have to be registered 29 days before election day,” she said. “We have one of the more stringent voter ID’s in the country.”
As a result, some voters may show up on election day without the knowledge that their registration has expired or without proper identification.
Across the state, turnout was highest in Jay County at 57 percent or 3,483 of 6,132 registered voters. Vanderburgh County experienced the weakest voter turnout—10 percent of registered voters made it to the polls.
The largest of the state’s counties, Marian, Lake and Allen, experienced low turnout—16, 17 and 15 percent respectively.
Overall voter turnout numbers from this year’s primary is comparable to the 2010 midterm primary election. That year, 21 percent of registered voters made it to the polls.
This year saw an upswing in early voting. Twenty percent of all primary voters cast their ballots at one of their county’s early voting centers, according to the state Election Division. The number has nearly doubled since 2010, when 11 percent of all votes were cast through early voting programs.
Seth Fleming is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.