Vigo County and other Indiana communities should not assume that heavy flows of early voters means the overall final turnout will be large, too.
Certainly, the long lines of Hoosiers waiting to vote early as that process began Tuesday are encouraging. Still, three weeks remain until Election Day on Nov. 3. A lot can happen in the meantime, and several factors could be leading people to visit the polls early.
The polls opened Tuesday morning to long lines of voters outside vote centers and precinct polling sites across the state. Of course, the length of the queues is somewhat exaggerated because those waiting were generally observing social distancing protocols to limit spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Still, reports of opening-day record turnouts cropped up in the affluent Indianapolis rim counties, as well as sizeable numbers in other locations.
A total of 3,825 Vigo Countians had cast early votes at three vote centers, as of 2:30 p.m. Thursday, according to LeAnna Moore, the chief deputy clerk. That total includes an initial burst of a combined 1,137 votes cast in the first 5 1/2 hours at The Meadows and Haute City Center shopping malls, and the Vigo County Annex.
One poll inspector at The Meadows termed that first-day turnout as "crazy good."
Once all the votes are cast and counted, Moore said a final turnout of 40,000 is expected.
To get there, another 36,000 residents must vote in person or by absentee ballot. As of Thursday afternoon, the county's pool of registered voters stood at 72,760, with another 1,393 pending (folks whose registrations were received on time but are awaiting final verification). If early voting continues to be steady, various motivations could be involved.
Typically, early voters are people who would have voted anyway on Election Day, if that early option did not exist, according to Andrew Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Purdue University Fort Wayne.
"We've taken Election Day and turned it into Election Month," Downs said. And, that's a good thing, he added.
More options can keep voters from skipping. If a tentative voter sees a line too long on one day of early voting, that person can choose to come back another day.
Some voters, weary of the brutal campaign atmosphere, cast ballots early out of "simply not wanting to pay attention anymore," Downs said.
With the country deeply divided and entrenched in Republican or Democratic camps, many Hoosiers already had their minds made up on Day 1 of early voting and wanted "to get it over with," as several Vigo County voters put it. In most election years, 25% of the electorate had not decided on a presidential candidate with just two weeks before Election Day, according to Downs. Not so in polarized 2020.
Then there is the pandemic factor. The state's ruling Republican leadership opted not to open an absentee vote-by-mail option for all Hoosiers, as 44 other states have done. So, people who do not meet any of the state-approved excuses for voting by mail must go to the polls in person. Public health officials urged citizens to vote early to avoid being clustered in long lines on Election Day. That concern could be influencing the big early turnouts, too.
The turnout on Nov. 3 could be mild, with most voting already exhausted through the early voting or absentee options.
A turnout of 40,000 would be par for Vigo County. Totals in recent presidential elections were 40,677 in 2016 and 40,357 in 2012. In 2016, Donald Trump carried Vigo County — the nation's bellwether, dating back to 1888 — but the county's 51% turnout of registered voters ranked third-lowest in Indiana. By contrast, 43,706 voters (62%) turned out in 2008, when Barack Obama won Vigo.
As for the state, Downs expects total turnout may only slightly top 2016. Many voters in this reliably Republican state figure it is a foregone conclusion that the party's top-of-the-ballot candidates — Trump, Gov. Eric Holcomb and the congressional incumbents — will win. That leaves state and county level offices as the drawing cards.
In reality, those offices affect Hoosiers most directly. County commissioner and council seats, School Board spots and state legislative positions should stir potential voters to follow through.
So, for those yet to vote, go early, mask up and keep a 6-foot distance in line and at the vote centers. Vote.