Voter turnout spikes in midterm

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    Steve Garbacz
    sgarbacz@kpcmedia.com

    Whether for or against President Trump and his administration, voters on both sides were more energized than usual for this year’s midterm election.

    Turnout usually dips substantially in the off-year elections when there is no presidential race on the ballot, but with one of the nation’s tightest U.S. Senate contests here in Indiana and well-publicized battles in Congress over the last two years, voters seemed to find a newfound appreciation for how much midterms matter.

    In Noble County, 51.2 percent of registered voters cast their ballots. In LaGrange County, turnout was more average at 40 percent.

    Voter turnout in recent midterms has hovered somewhere between about 35-45 percent.

    In 2014 — a notably down year with no U.S. Senate races on the ballot — only 35 percent of voters in both Noble and LaGrange counties went to the polls.

    The last time turnout has been so high was 1994, when 61 percent of voters in both Noble and LaGrange counties turned out during the “Contract with America” push by Republicans as they stormed into power during President Bill Clinton’s first midterm.

    “Amazing,” Noble County Clerk Shelley Mawhorter said of the turnout. “Why this time and never before? Locally there was a couple races, so everything had to do with the senate, the state.”

    Although higher than usual for a midterm, the turnout was still lower compared to presidential years. In 2016, 56 percent of Noble County voters and 71 percent in LaGrange County cast ballots.

    Thousands took advantage of the option to vote early in Noble County, with 5,093 voters casting ballots ahead of Nov. 6. That was way up from 2014 when 1,958 voted early and nearly as many as voted altogether that year, 7,082.

    In LaGrange County, 877 people cast a ballot ahead of Election Day.

    Polling sites remained busy throughout the day. After a higher-than-usual number of early votes cast ahead of Election Day, voters streamed into sites steadily.

    At Bridgeway Church in Kendallville, typically Noble County’s most popular vote center, voters were waiting in line at 6 a.m. As of 10:30 a.m., poll workers said the line never got shorter than five people, with most of the time a couple dozen people queued up to sign in.

    Across town at Crosspointe Church it was slower, as usual, but people kept most of the site’s machines filled throughout the morning.

    “At 6 a.m., we had lines everywhere. But once they got past that initial 6 to 7:15-ish, everybody was steady all day,” Mawhorter said.

    With the high number of early votes in Noble County, it’s beginning to raise the question — is early voting more convenient? People who showed up to vote the first Saturday of early voting had to wait up to 90 minutes in line. On Nov. 6, no polling site had lines of more than 15-20 minutes.

    The issue then becomes having enough equipment. More people still vote on Election Day, so the county needs to have many machines available. Any machine used for early voting can’t be used on Election Day, so utilizing each machine to its greatest effect will be key for the next presidential election in 2020.

    “We had good voter turnout today, too, so I have to be able to accommodate the people who vote on Election Day,” Mawhorter said.