FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — What would it take to get more Allen County voters to polls?
Tuesday, less than 13% of registered voters cast their ballots for primary candidates, a dismal showing that GOP chairman Steve Shine called “shameful.”
Shine’s comments came after Republicans Wednesday celebrated the primary at the traditional GOP Hot Dog luncheon at GOP Headwaters on downtown Main Street.
Voting centers, a newer development in continuous voting, could be the answer.
Allen County voter turnout by year
2022 – 12.77%
2020 – 23.36%
2019 – 14.35%
2018 – 15.15%
2016 – 36.41%
2015 – 9.82%
2014 – 12.05%
2012 – 19%
2011 – 12.78%
Looking to Huntington County, the county’s neighbor to the south west, voting turnout during primary kicked up after 2015 when voting centers were instituted. This year, voting was available in six centers for 28 days prior to Tuesday’s election.
“It really made a huge difference,” said Shelley Septer, Huntington’s Clerk of the Circuit Court overseeing the Board of Elections. “It was a positive concept that increased not only the voting numbers overall, but people could go anywhere they wanted to go. Early voting has really been a trend over the last few years.”
In Allen County, early voting was available downtown at the Rousseau Centre starting April 5. Four satellite locations at Indiana Wesleyan University, Ivy Tech Coliseum Campus, the Public Safety Academy and Salomon Farm Park were open from April 26 to April 30. Hours to vote varied.
Other nearby counties that had higher primary turnout voting and have voting centers included Adams, DeKalb, Kosciusko, Steuben, Wabash and Wells. Noble County also has voting centers but again had disappointing results with 11.5% of registered voters going to the polls.
Allen County, the biggest county with nearly 268,000 voters, is on board to have voting centers, says Amy Scrogham, director of the Allen County Board of Elections.
“At this time, it would be hard to (because) our county is so big, but we’ve already been talking about it,” Scrogham said. The number of polling places was reduced recently from 289 to 278, but finding the space to handle the number of the county’s voters makes the project difficult, she added.
Even so, this year’s primary is one of the lowest ones, according to local data. In 2016, the contested Republican presidential primary drove voting in the county and more than 36% of the voters voted. In 2018, primary voter turnout was 15% and in 2020, primary turnout was 23%.
Septer said Huntington’s voter turnout was low this year as well. In 2016, Huntington saw 42% percentage of the voters come out; in 2018, about 27%; in 2020 nearly 30%.
Derek Camp, chair of the Allen County Democratic Party, said the low turnout might be attributed to not having Trump on the ballot. But otherwise, he attributed several factors including the weather to the lower turnout. Tuesday’s weather was rainy all day, at times quite heavy.
Camp also noticed that the precincts where there were contested races on either side of the aisle brought out more voters.
Voting centers also help lower election costs by requiring fewer poll workers, Septer said.
“You don’t have to have as many poll workers, so you’re saving the county an amazing amount of money,” Septer said. Huntington went to six voting centers with seven pollworkers after having to have 39 voting precincts where you had to have an average of seven pollworkers covering those locations.
“It went from hundreds of poll workers to 42 pollworkers that I had to pay,” Septer explained.