Low voter turnout could have a big impact on some races in Tuesday’s primary election. Early voting ended at noon Monday and the polls open at 6 a.m. Tuesday.
According to St. Joseph County Clerk Terri Rethlake, 4,013 voters cast absentee ballots so far in the Presidential Primary. That number will likely grow once mail-in votes are counted. So far, that’s down about 57 percent from the primary election four years ago.
In Elkhart County, 1,868 people voted early – a 40 percent difference from the 2008 primary – the clerk’s office said.
Political experts say absentee voter turnout is a very good indicator of how many people will show up to vote on Election Day. In 2008 when both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were on the democratic ticket, the race was very competitive and drew lots of national attention, encouraging more people to vote.
That’s not the case this year.
When WSBT asked several people casting ballots in the final minutes of absentee voting at the County-City Building in South Bend what the cared about most, the answers varied.
Some said they are most interested in the St. Joseph County Probate Judge race, others said they want to make sure President Obama is re-elected and still others said they’re very interested in the outcome of the United States Senate race between Republican incumbent Dick Lugar and challenger Richard Mourdock.
Those varied answers, said Saint Mary’s College Professor Sean Savage, are typical in a primary election where low voter turnout is expected. But what does it mean?
For starters, Savage said voters often head to the polls for a specific race and very specific reasons.
One example he gave: the race for St. Joseph County Probate Judge where five democrats – including Catherine Andres, Stephen Drendall, Andre Gammage, Mark Kopinski, Ken Sheetz are running for one nomination.
“I think what might happen is if the African American vote is mobilized and united behind Andre Gammage and other voting blocks divide their support among four candidates, I think there's a good chance Gammage can pull off an upset and win the nomination,” Savage said.
He also said the race he expects to bring out the most voters – the U.S. Senate Contest – will have a similar impact if Republicans mobilize in support of Mourdock.
“[Voters] feel very alienated from Congress. And therefore any incumbent Senator like Lugar whose been in office since January of 1977 is going to be suspect,” said Savage.
Last week, Howey Politics and DePauw University released a poll showing Mourdock with a 10 percentage point lead over Lugar. Savage said even if that poll is a big exaggerated, he still thinks Mourdock has a very good chance of coming out with a win tomorrow.
Age may also be a factor in voter turnout for this year’s primary. Savage said that’s typical in primary that hasn't had much national attention – young adults are more likely to have especially low turnout. He predicted more senior citizens and retirees showing up to the polls Tuesday.