IU South Bend Gets Students to the Polls for the Primary Election
Re-posted from this website.
Experts: Interest Growing At Surprising Rate For Upcoming Indiana Primary
SOUTH BEND — The clock is ticking–just five days left to register to vote in this year’s spring primary elections. Often, that deadline doesn’t seem to mean much to many potential voters. But, this year some experts think that will change.
Primaries traditionally record low voter registration and voter turnout, averaging between 10 percent and 15 percent in St. Joseph County, according to Voter Registration Department records. But, with several high profile races on the ballot this year, some experts say interest is growing at a surprising rate.
It’s already evident on lawns, parkways and buildings across St. Joseph County. Campaign signs for Sheriff, several State Representative races, County Council races and the 2nd District Congressional race already dot the landscape. It’s likely they’ll soon be joined by signs for other high profile races, like Indiana’s 3rd District Congressional seat and the contentious Republican primary for Indiana’s second U.S. Senate seat.
But, ask a voter who’s running and for what office, and you’re likely to get a quizzical stare.
“Primary elections–unlike general elections–are very low turnout,” said Indiana University-South Bend Political Science Professor Dr. Elizabeth Bennion. “And part of the reason they have low turnout is that voters don’t feel like they have enough information to actually make a decision on election day.”
So far, voter registration figures in St. Joseph County suggest this year that won’t change.
“The Presidential primaries always bring out a lot of people. But, some of the other elections, there aren’t a lot of people that come out at primary time. We haven’t really noticed a change to that that I’m aware of,” said St. Joseph County Republican Voter Registration Board Member Linda Silcott.
But, Silcott added, more than 80 percent of the county’s voter registrations now come in through Indiana BMV License Branches, and those numbers haven’t been tallied yet.
“So, there may be a lot more out there,” she said.
Bennion, who also advises IU-South Bend’s American Democracy Project and Political Science Club, thinks it’s likely there will be.
On Tuesday, the two organizations teamed up with the League of Women Voters for the first of four planned “candidate forums” aimed at introducing voters to candidates and issues. First up were Republican candidates for St. Joseph County Sheriff James Fox and Randy Peppers. Candidate Keith Rininger did not participate.
“Forums like this give [voters] an opportunity to actually learn about candidates and learn about their choices so they can go to the polls confident they’re ready to cast an informed vote,” Bennion said.
Still, history suggests most voters still won’t care. But, Bennion says–this year, attitudes may be different for one simple reason: focus on high profile national issues like health care.
“We’ve seen rallies. We’ve seen lots of letters to the editor in local newspapers. So, people may be paying attention to these races as a way of either thanking the current incumbent, or getting him out of office. So, we do see more attention being paid to politics which probably will translate into higher turnout on election day,” she said.
It’s likely much of the focus of that higher turnout will be on the U.S. Senate race and Congressional primaries. But, those voters will still be casting ballots for more localized races once their in the voting booth.
That’s why Bennion says it’s critical voters do their homework.
“Candidates will hear voters before a general election complain–oh, I don’t really like anyone on the ballot. Well, this is your opportunity to actually decide who will be on that ballot in the November election. So, I think it’s really important that voters take these primaries seriously, rather than sitting back and saying their party didn’t put the person on the ballot they wanted there. The party’s not putting the person on the ballot. They are,” Bennion said.
“You’re helping your party choose its candidates,” said Silcott. “That’s how I always state it. And it is an important choice.”
IU-South Bend will host three other candidate forums as well. All are open to the public.
The Democratic candidate forum for County Sheriff candidates is scheduled for Thursday, April 8 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in Wiekamp Hall, Room 1001, IU South Bend. The Democratic candidates are John Botich Jr., Jefferey Diggins, Keith Forsythe, and Mike Grzegorek. Candidate Michael Miller will not be participating.
Later forums include the 2nd Congressional District Republican primary candidates from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, April 17 at IU South Bend’s Student Activities Center, second floor, Room 225 and St. Joseph County Council District H Democratic primary candidates from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 22 in Wiekamp Hall, Room 1001, IU-South Bend.