News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 5, 2012

Noisy Senate race not generating early voting

Maureen Hayden

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s hotly contested Republican Senate primary race has generated more than $12 million in campaign spending, including a record-topping $4 million in outside dollars.

The intra-party fight between incumbent U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar and his challenger, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, has also attracted the rapt attention of the national news media who’ve dubbed it the marquee race to watch.

But so far, all that money and media coverage haven’t made voters eager to vote, according to one indicator: Early voting — including the number of absentee ballots requested by Hoosier voters for Tuesday’s primary — is down significantly from years past.

“We’re way behind,” said Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson, who serves as the state’s chief election officer.

No one expected a repeat of the blow-out numbers in 2008, when then candidates Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton were in a virtual arm-wrestling match for the Democratic presidential nomination. The state set a record for primary voting — early, absentee and otherwise.

But this year’s early voting numbers are lagging behind the 2010 and 2006 primary voting numbers as well.

As of May 1 — just past the deadline for applying for an absentee ballot by mail — 48,946 Hoosiers had requested an absentee ballot for Tuesday’s primary election.

That’s about 30,000 fewer than at the same point two years ago, when 79,228 Hoosiers had requested absentee ballots for the 2010 primary election. In 2006, more than 61,000 Hoosiers cast their primary ballot by absentee vote.

Ed Feigenbaum, publisher of Indiana Legislative Insight, has been surprised by the low early turnout.

It’s not what he expected; in addition to the noisy and expensive Lugar-Mourdock race, there are at least two U.S. congressional races in which the primary victor will be the champion in the fall election.

“I wonder whether people are simply turned off by the negative campaigns or whether they may be undecided and don’t want to vote until they have a better idea as to whom they should vote for,” Feigenbaum said by email.