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Voting Early Doesn’t Equal Voting Often

The discussion is heating up once again in Marion County over the issue of satellite voting.   Common Cause and the Indianapolis Chapter of the NAACP have filed a lawsuit against the State of Indiana and Marion County over early voting, or the lack thereof.

They say because other counties have multiple early voting opportunities and Marion County doesn’t, that Marion County voters are being disenfranchised because they have to come down to the City-County building and some have to take off work to vote.   While at the news conference this past week I had to laugh and chuckle at the taking off work part because one of the plaintiff’s who spoke at the news conference had to take off work to tell everyone he was filing a lawsuit because he had to take off work to early vote.

But I digress.

Despite the best wishes of satellite voting proponents, the evidence doesn’t prove that it increases voter turnout.  If anything, I argue you just rearrange the deck chairs and individuals who would have voted anyway just do it earlier.   Here’s a synopsis of the voter turnout taken from the Marion County Clerk’s website.

  • 2016 General – 53% turnout, 18.5% absentee.
  • 2014 General – 25% turnout, 9% absentee.
  • 2012 General; – 56% turnout, 16% absentee.
  • 2010 General – 36.6 % turnout, 10.2% absentee.
  • 2008 General – 54.7 % turnout, 24% absentee.
  • 2006 General – 33.19 %, turnout, 6% absentee.
  • 2004 General – 53.6 %, turnout  8.4 % absentee.

As you can see voter turnout tends to be pretty consistent, regardless of whether there is satellite voting.  

Let’s do a comparison of the 2016 and 2008 general elections.  I picked those two because Marion County had early, satellite voting in 2008, but not in 2016.   First of all, in 2008, more than 380,000 people showed up to vote, about 93,000 voted early or absentee, regardless the overall turnout was nearly 55 percent.   Fast forward eight years later, the number of people who showed up to vote actually decreased to slightly more than 370,000 and just under 69,000 voted early and the turnout wasn’t really all that different about 53 percent.  And while there has been a decrease in absentee/early voting percentages, the total voter turnout has been pretty consistent.  Actually according to the data, while there was no early/satellite voting in 2012, more people showed up to vote than in the year there was early voting.

Satellite voting may make it easier for people to vote, but there’s no evidence that it increases participation.  If you want to increase voter participation, get better candidates on the ballot.  It shouldn’t shock anyone that the Presidential election year with the lowest percentage of turnout was the year there were two candidates at the top of the ticket that no one, absent hardcore partisans, could stand.  

Candidates and issues drive turnout, not early voting.   What good does it do a voter to have more places to vote if they don’t like anyone on the ballot or there are no issues to get them worked up?  They may as well mail it in and go about their business.    The one benefit to early/satellite voting is if you don’t like either candidate, as was apparently in the last election, you can just cast your vote for the lesser of two evils and then go back to living in the real word and never worry these clowns until Inauguration Day.

Hmmm, maybe that just might be the best reason for more early voting opportunities after all.