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Low voter turnout plagues Michiana with little interest in top of ballot races

A man votes in the 2022 midterm election on Election Day on Nov. 8, 2022 in Lansing, Michigan.
Bill Pugliano
Getty Images
A man votes in the 2022 midterm election on Election Day on Nov. 8, 2022 in Lansing, Michigan.

With the dust settling on the 2024 primary elections, low turnout was a theme across Michiana.

Tuesday’s primary elections continued the trend seen across most of the state with voter turnout rates falling to their lowest point in recent memory in both St. Joseph and Elkhart counties.

In St. Joseph County, unofficial results show just under 12% of registered voters cast ballots in the primary, which is the lowest mark since at least 2004 per state election data. In Elkhart the story was similar with just under 15% of registered voters voting. That’s down from 35% in 2016 — when both Elkhart and St. Joe counties saw high turnout marks due to the presidential primary still up for grabs.

Usually presidential primaries draw higher turnout, but with both Donald Trump and Joe Biden all but securing their party’s candidates the usual pull wasn’t there.

"We had such dominant candidates that there simply was no competition and therefore less excitement, enthusiasm, coverage, interest," said Elizabeth Bennion, a Chancellor’s Professor of Political Science at Indiana University South Bend. "Compare that to 2020 even when we have a good sense of who will be at the top, there's other names on the ballot. There's a little more enthusiasm for registering your support for a particular candidate when there's a contested race throughout the campaign season.

She added even a hotly contested governor’s race wasn’t enough to draw voters to polls, despite it being the most expensive in state history with an estimated $40 million spent between all six candidates.

"It seems like the public at large wasn't paying a whole lot of attention despite the important of the race and what we perceive to be a high-ticket race," Bennion said. "Mike Braun's name recognition really seemed to carry the day there."

Other factors play into voter turnout, including the weather, which was iffy for much of Michiana on Tuesday. There were two separate belts of heavy rain — one in the late morning and one in the afternoon — in addition to tornado warnings for parts of LaPorte County and a tornado touched down in Dowagiac shortly before polls in Indiana closed.

Marek Mazurek has been with WVPE since April 2023, though he's been in Michiana for most of his life. He has a particular interest in public safety reporting. When he's not on the radio, Marek enjoys getting way too into Notre Dame football and reading about medieval English history.