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Experts Say 2020 Primary Election May Exceed 2018 Record-Breaking Voter Turnout Numbers

Voters in Bloomington, Indiana.

(WTIU/WFIU News)

While many people are focused on the holidays, Hoosier political pundits and candidates are already gearing up for the 2020 election.

“The outreach right now is person to person, going to each Republican,” says William Ellis, chair of the Monroe County Republican Party.

But recent history shows getting Hoosiers into the voting booths for primary elections is an uphill battle.

According to the Indiana Secretary of State's Office, in 2016, 1,771,753 Hoosiers voted in the primary, out of 4,715,252 registered voters.

That number increased in the 2016 general election, to 2,807,676 voters voting out of 4,829,243 registered voters.

The numbers dipped dramatically in the 2018 primary, with 861,767 voters casting ballots statewide out of 4,406,549 registered voters. 

However as with most midterm elections; there was record breaking turnout for the 2018 general election. 2,308,258 people cast ballots in the 2018 midterm statewide, out of 4,526,663 registered voters. 

The turnout varied around the state.

“We had some precincts that voted 80 percent, which is unheard of in a mid-term,” says Monroe County Elections Supervisor Karen Wheeler.

Voter turnout in 2018 was so brisk, Monroe County ran out of ballots. Even with an impressive showing in 2018, turnout is lukewarm more often than not.

“What we know is that Indiana is not high, we mid-level and lower, in both registration rates and in turnout rates compared to the rest of the country,” says Purdue University-Fort Wayne Professor Andrew Downs.

Downs is also Director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics, he says there are a variety of reasons for the low numbers.

Among them, Indiana is a closed primary state, meaning voters can vote only in their own party’s primary.

Downs says the state was among the first in the nation to offer voter registration on line.

“So what political campaigns often do, is look to the pool of voters who show up regularly, and they ask themselves, of this pool of voters, can I win, and if I can, am I even incentivized to go out and find new voters,?” Downs says.

He says even though Hoosiers' numbers at the polls may be fickle, their votes are consistent. Since 1932, only three Democratic presidential nominees have won the state, most recently President Barack Obama, eleven years ago.

Often, the down ballot races decide turnout.

“If the other races on the ticket, governor, member of the Indiana House, member of the Indiana Senate if yours is up, and even local races, if those aren’t exciting, then we can actually look at a low turnout,” Downs says.

But Downs says even if voters aren’t excited about local races, President Trump being at the top of the ticket will continue to drive turnout on both sides causing polarization among voters at the local level.

Something that Ellis says distracts from the real issues affecting voters.

“If the voters want polarization, we got candidates out there for that, what’s going to start happening, is we’re going to have to have polarizing candidates locally,” Ellis says.

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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