GOSHEN — Two years of Trump-era national politics, a U.S. Senate race that could tip the chamber’s balance of power, and a tough U.S. House race are helping drive apparently larger-than-expected crowds of voters in Elkhart County to cast early ballots this year.
About 3,783 in-person votes were cast from Oct. 10, when early voting began, through Thursday for the 2018 midterm elections, Elkhart County Clerk Chris Anderson said Friday. The number already surpassed the 2,435 total of in-person early votes for the 2014 midterm election, an increase of 55 percent.
About 459 people voted early in person just on Thursday.
“Absentee voting in Elkhart County is very heavy,” Anderson said, comparing the 2018 early votes with 2014’s early votes because 2014 was the most recent midterm election.
Anderson is certain early in-person votes will hit the 5,000 mark, and possibly climb to the 6,000 mark, by the time early voting ends Nov. 5, the day before Election Day. But he doesn’t expect early voting to reach the same volume of about 13,000 early in-person votes for the presidential election in 2016.
Adding mailed-in absentee ballots, votes collected from the traveling board, and those emailed in by overseas and military voters, the early voting total in Elkhart County, from Sept. 21–Oct. 25, is 5,774 this year. By comparison, the early voting total for 2014 was 4,277, Anderson said.
He believes voters are turning out in response to various factors, such as: The growing polarization of Republicans and Democrats; recent political controversies, including the sexual misconduct allegations during Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings in September; the statewide race between Democrat Sen. Joe Donnelly and Republican challenger Mike Braun as a hinge that could swing control of the U.S. Senate; and the race between Republican Rep. Jackie Walorski and Democrat challenger Mel Hall for the U.S. House’s District 2 seat, which covers Elkhart County. Those are more national-level decisions.
On the local level, Anderson listed races for Elkhart County auditor, County Council, Elkhart Township trustee and board, and the Concord Township board as contested races of interest this year.
“That’s bringing out a lot of people who are voting in more of the local races,” Anderson said.
THE TRUMP FACTOR
The national issues, driven by perceptions of President Trump, seem to be fueling most of the early turnout.
“I think that a lot of people could be encouraged or discouraged by President Trump,” said Deb Fleming, the Indiana Republican Party’s District 2 chair. “There’s a big fight this time, I think.”
“There’s more interest in this midterm than any I can recall in any midterm,” said Dan Holtz, chair of the Elkhart County Republican Party.
Holtz and his Democrat counterpart shared Anderson and Fleming’s views this year’s turnout trend. He added immigration and economic issues to the list of concerns among Republican voters.
“A good economy tends to drive down turnout, but I think there’s a fear among many that if we had a change in control in the House or Senate that that would endanger the economic progress that we’ve made over the last two years,” Holtz said.
Chad Crabtree, chair of the Elkhart County Democratic Party, said the organization has pushed a get-out-the-vote campaign to encourage voters to cast ballots this year.
Crabtree hopes the early voting numbers will favor local Democrats come Election Day. Part of the party’s message calls for preventing Republicans from keeping or expanding control of both houses of Congress.
“We need a balance of power,” Crabtree said. “The one party system makes sense for the party that’s ruling, but it doesn’t make sense for not getting anything accomplished.”
EARLY VOTING HOURS
The early voting period runs through Monday, Nov. 5, with extended hours and weekend dates now in effect.
Absentee ballots can be cast today and Nov. 3, 8:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m., at the Elkhart County Administration Building, 117 N. Second St., in Goshen; the Lincoln Center, 608 Oakland Ave., in Elkhart; First Brethren Church, 1600 N. Main St., in Nappanee; and the Middlebury Town Hall, 418 N. Main St., in Middlebury.
The extended hours leading up to Election Day are 8:30 a.m.–7 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at the Administration Building and the Lincoln Center locations. The hours for the final day of early voting are 8 a.m.–noon.
WORKING THE POLLS
Information about absentee voting can also be viewed at ElkhartCountyClerk.com/voter-info/absentee-info.
The local party heads are also still working to fill poll worker positions at the county’s 27 vote centers on Election Day, Nov. 6.
“It’s always a bit of a challenge to find people willing to spend the entire day sequestered in a polling place,” Holtz said.
Crabtree said the job pays $130 for the day with hours running about 5 a.m. to 7 p.m., or longer depending on circumstances with election results.