Lake County seeing an increase in early voting turnout

Voter turnout so far appears to be a little above average 12 days into early voting at Lake County’s 11 vote centers, according to election officials.

“We always like to see growth,” Fajman said.

The government center site in Crown Point tends to be the busiest through the early voting period and has the most machines set up for voters. There have not been lines, she said.

Fajman said it is difficult to compare this year’s early voter turnout with the 2020 presidential election cycle because of the pandemic caused by COVID-19.

“With COVID, we only had early voting seven days before the election,” Fajman said. The travel board was not being utilized as much as usual since people did not want strangers coming into their homes, and mail-in absentee ballots surged in 2020 since no reason was needed to request one due to the pandemic.

At the same point in 2020, the office had mailed out 27,406 absentee ballots and had received 16,265 back.

“In comparison, right now, in 2024, we have sent out 2,669 with a return of 1,513. It’s apples to oranges here — a totally different type of election,” Fajman said.

Jumping back to 2016, the last presidential election conducted prior to the pandemic, 3,172 absentee ballots were requested at the same point, which was the last day to request absentee ballots, and 1,746 had been returned. Absentee ballots must physically be received in the Board of Eections office by 6 p.m. May 7. Voters who requested an absentee ballot can choose instead to vote in person or can deliver the ballot to the office if they fear it will not arrive in time by mail to meet the 6 p.m. deadline.

Fajman said right now 5,091 people have voted early. At this point in 2022, 3,364 people had voted early, and in-person early voting in 2016 was at 3,915.

“So we are above that,” Fajman said, adding that while in overall scale early turnout actually seems small it is higher.

Even though the presumptive presidential nominees for each party already have been decided, Fajman said there are still candidates down ticket who have opposition and need the support of voters in order to move on to the general election in the fall. She encouraged people to take advantage of the early voting sites because you never know what may come up on Election Day.

“It’s extremely important to show up for those candidates,” Fajman said.

Randy Niemeyer, chairman of Lake County’s Republican Party, said unfortunately many people just are not voting in the primaries, which can pose challenges for party chairmen like himself and Jim Wieser, his Democratic counterpart.

“As someone who has been a loyal voter all my life, primaries always been important for me,” Niemeyer said. The primary gives party members a chance to choose their slate for the general election.

Republicans in Lake County this year have a contested county-wide race to decide as well as a hotly contested governor’s race. Niemeyer, who himself is also running to represent the party in the first Congressional District, faces two challengers — Mark Leyva and Ben Ruiz.

What people often do not understand about primaries in Indiana is declaring a party in the primary is the first step toward becoming active in local government for those who may be interested, Niemeyer said.

“Whether you pull an ‘R’ or a ‘D’ (lever) determines whether you can be considered for certain boards and commissions. Municipal government boards that require political balance (and) require you to be identified in the party,” Niemeyer said, adding not voting in the primary takes away your ability to participate in government on some levels. Certain political balance requirements are enshrined by Indiana statute.

“We all know when governmental balance is out of whack, a lot of time it loses accountability to the people,” he said.

Niemeyer said he is hopeful to see voter turnout pick up for this primary election cycle with a robust turnout on Election Day itself.

“As party chairman, I want to have a database of people, that when these boards of commissions come up for consideration, we can put good people in who want to serve,” Niemeyer said.

Wieser, Chairman of Lake County’s Democratic Central Committee, said too often in Indiana the general election is the big election with a much lower turnout for the primary election, and like Niemeyer agrees the parties need their voters to come out and declare.

“For those of us in the process, the primary is important,” Wieser said. Along with deciding a handful of county races, the primary is where party delegates are chosen. Delegates to the state convention make the party’s selection for who will run in the attorney general and lieutenant governor’s race. The party also approves its platform during the convention.

“It’s an important thing to me, the turnout,” he said.

In an election year that has few races that attract a lot of attention county offices such as sheriff or clerk, it can be challenging to get people out to the polls. Democrats have contested county races for the surveyor, coroner and District 3 commissioner’s seat.

“It doesn’t generate as much energy or enthusiasm,” Wieser said.