Dialing Up a Voting Change

A story yesterday about a number of Indiana colleges and universities doing away with telephone landlines for students (I may never forget that phone box that was shared with those next door back in the Ball State days) makes total sense in today’s world. Along the same lines, trudging to the polls on Election Day is seemingly still the "right thing" for only a shrinking number of eligible voters.

Why do I say that?

  • Early voting is becoming a dominating force, only restrained in part by the state or local laws in place. In Indiana, 24% of ballots in 2008 (more than double previous totals) were cast ahead of time. Currently, in a contentious Florida primary, more than 500,000 (30%) early votes are expected.
  • Other states are being much more innovative, with various methods to save voters the trip to the local fire station, school, church or other facility on November 2 this time around. Unlimited absentee periods, alternative early locations and even mail-in votes are part of the mix.
  • Technology is our friend. Amazing things can and do happen every day. Voting someday will certainly take place electronically. Let’s not be afraid to move in that direction. Doing things the way we have always done them — with the reasoning being we have always done them that way — simply isn’t good enough.

And if we’re going to have some voting take place on Election Day — which we certainly should — why not incorporate vote centers? These are centralized locations that make it possible for more people to participate and can save counties and states tremendous amounts of money. Pilot projects were successful. The time for widespread implementation is now.

Our BizVoice magazine, available at this time next week, will include some early election coverage, including comments on early voting and the impact on the candidates and campaigns.

Where, Oh Where Are All the Voters?

I am the first to admit that I make my share of mistakes. Just ask my wife, children, friends, co-workers. … You get the picture.

But unlike 79% of eligible Hoosiers who did not take a few minutes to vote on primary Election Day, I did cast my ballot on May 4. And I’ll be there on November 2 when the general election rolls around. More people will decide to be part of the process at that time, but the numbers will still be way lower than what one would expect. People should vote — not because it’s their duty (well, maybe it is), but it’s a right and a privilege to help choose your government representatives. OK, that’s the end of the soapbox.

In this space earlier this month, I was swept up in the 2008 election euphoria (40% turnout due to the Democrat primary battle for president) and predicted 30% or more participation this time around. Didn’t happen. Not even close. The totals sunk back to traditional levels for non-presidential primary years. That is a real shame.

For those looking to be informed now, the Chamber’s IBRG continues to update its election report with results and analysis. In addition, the state released some numbers yesterday. Included in its info:

Data compiled by the Indiana Election Division from post-election reports filed by Indiana’s 92 counties show 21 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in the 2010 primary election. Of those who voted, 11 percent cast an absentee ballot.

Voter turnout for the 2010 primary election was slightly higher than the 2006 primary, when 19 percent of registered voters cast a ballot. In the 2004 primary, voter turnout was 21 percent, and in 2002 was 22 percent. Due to the heavily contested Democratic Presidential primary in 2008, voter turnout was an unprecedented 40 percent.

The newly released figures show a 54 percent increase in absentee voting compared to the 2006 primary election, the most recent primary election with a similar voter turnout to 2010. In this year’s primary 94,671 Hoosiers cast an absentee ballot. Of those, 48,666 voters cast their ballot in person at a county clerk’s office or satellite voting office. The remaining 46,005 ballots were cast by postal mail or by traveling board.

In 2006, 7 percent of Hoosiers cast an absentee ballot in the primary. In the 2004 primary, 6 percent of Hoosiers cast an absentee ballot, and in the 2002 primary, 7 percent of Hoosiers cast an absentee ballot. In 2008, 11 percent of Hoosiers cast an absentee ballot in the primary. 

And the Voter Turnout Is …

One of the primary (that’s primary as in most signficant, not the May election) questions each Election Day is: What was the voter turnout?

As we await some of those numbers for today (we do know that approximately 92,000 people voted early or by mail, compared to 61,000 doing the same in 2006), a little history and reflection on the historic jump in participation we saw two years ago when the Obama-Clinton primary fight generated national attention.

In 2006 (a better comparison to this year as the most recent mid-term election), nearly 850,000 Hoosiers cast ballots. That’s 19,000 of registered voters. The top county vote percentages were in Benton (42%) and Martin (41%). In 24 counties, the vote percentages were in the teens.

Two years later, the votes in Indiana doubled to 1.7 million. There were 185,000 absentee ballots that year. Five counties (Greene, Lake, Martin, Henry and Vermillion) had at least half their eligible voters go to the polls and the lowest turnout number was 33% in several counties. (In November 2008, the vote percentage surged to an amazing 62%.)

What about the previous primary elections since the turn of the century? Amazing consistency. 2004, 21% turnout; 2002, 22%; and 2000, 19.5%.

Prediction for this time around: We’ll beat the 20% range of most years, not reach the 40% of 2008 but close more than half of that gap. In other words, lower 30s for a percentage. Too optimistic or a sign that voters are not happy and want to have their say?

Numbers That Matter in Indiana Right Now

As we approach the last Election Day on November 4, here is a list of key numbers and percentages that have greatly influenced this election.

  • 91% – Percentage of the national population that rates the economic conditions as “only fair" or “poor,” according to Gallup
  • 40% – Key percentage to look for in Indiana is if Obama can win 40% or more of the white vote. If Obama goes north of this number, he likely wins Indiana
  • I 30-49 – Independent 30-49 year old middle age voters are critical in deciding who will win Indiana’s eleven electoral votes
  • 26 – MINIMUM number of new legislators that will show up for the 2009 Indiana General Assembly. This number is likely to go up following the defeat of incumbents
  • 76 – Number of IBRG Endorsed legislative candidates in 2008
  • 1 – Number of truly competitive Senate races on IBRG’s radar screen
  • 8 – Number of competitive House races IBRG is playing in today
  • 13 – House races that are either lean or toss-up
  • +2 R / +3 D – This is the likely range for party change in the Indiana House
  • 345,582 – Newly registered voters in 2008 alone (8.4% of voters)
  • 525,264 – Newly registered voters since 2006 General Election. That means that 12.7% of voters are newly registered since 2006. This is a huge NEW voting block that did not exist two years ago.
  • 455,035 – Absentee ballots cast as of last night. This is already 11% of total registered voters (4,135,301 active voters).

Finally, the last number that may matter most to all of us – 4; there are only four days left to vote.

Why Do the Polls Close at 6 p.m.? It’s All Politics

Who should you vote for in this November’s election? That’s your decision. Do you need to know more information about state and federal candidates, as well as the election process? That’s our job.

Check out our popular publication, Let’s Talk Politics 2008. For $5 (less for bulk orders), you get nearly 100 pages of candidate profiles, party platforms, ABCs of politics and much more.

No disrespect to my Indiana Chamber colleagues who compiled this always useful publication, but one question remains unanswered. Why, oh why, does Indiana have the earliest poll closing time (tied with Kentucky and maybe a few others) in the country on Election Day at 6 p.m.?

There has to be a story behind it. Who can help me out?

Election Day is Just 17 Days Away!

That’s right, Election Day is just 17 days away from today.  I know, you have just grabbed your calendar and it tells you that it is only September 19 and that it is 46 days until November 4.  Well, you are right, but, so am I. 

We no longer live in an election world where the first Tuesday in November that follows a Monday is Election Day.  Now, Tuesday, November 4 is simply the last day we can call “Election Day.”  So what is 17 days from now? It happens to be October 6, which is the first day that a voter can vote via absentee ballot. This is the first of many Election Days. 

With the ability to vote absentee ballot, at a vote center, satellite voting, at the county clerk’s office or at a traditional polling place on Election Day, voters have a much longer period of time to vote than just 12 hours on one day. This is having a greater impact each election with the outcome of the election. Any campaign that does not recognize Election Day is just 17 days away is taking a giant risk with the their Get Out The Vote (GOTV) efforts.

My suggestion for voters: Take advantage of your options by voting early and avoid what will be long lines in many polling locations on November 4. The Indiana Prosperity Project has details regarding early voting procedures.