St. Joe Co. low voter turnout is 'probably a record'

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. -- Voter turnout took a huge turn for the worse in St. Joseph County on Tuesday.

“Turnout was pretty bad yesterday, only 6.48 percent,” said St. Joseph County Clerk Terri Rethlake.

That means only 12,928 of the county’s 199,357 voters bothered to cast a ballot. 2,284 of those votes were actually cast ‘absentee’ before Election Day, meaning that only 10,644 voters showed up at the polls on Tuesday.

NewsCenter 16 checked voter turnout statistics for every Indiana County for every county-wide primary dating back to 1998 and found just one other example of turnout in the single digits: That was a turnout of eight percent in Vanderburgh County in May of 2002.

Yesterday’s turnout in the St. Joseph County primary was even worse. “It’s pretty disappointing, I mean we spend a lot of money and put a lot of time and hard work and effort into every election, and to have only six percent of the people come out to vote is pretty disheartening,” said Rethlake.

Disheartening, and expensive. Rethlake estimates that yesterday’s primary will cost about $400,000. That means taxpayers are on the hook to pick up a tab of nearly $31 for each vote cast.

“Certainly like to see more than six percent show up, you know in other countries people are dreaming of the rite to vote, you know, or unfortunately have violent civil wars,” said St. Joseph County Commissioner Dave Thomas.

Despite the dismal turnout, the Executive Director of the St. Joseph County Republican Party, Jake Teshka, still sees the ballot box as ‘half full.’ “I think it’s a fluke, I don’t think it’s really a cause for concern.”

Teshka says the ballot he received when he went to the polls didn’t have a single competitive race on it. He chalks up the extremely low turnout to extremely bad timing.

“It's not common, it’s once every 12 years, that this type of cycle happens where, where again there's no president, there's no senate, there's no governor ticket on the on the ticket in Indiana.

Teshka expects turnout in St. Joseph County to be higher in the fall with competitive races for Congress and prosecutor.

There’s also the possibility that the low turnout figure is being influenced by inflated voter registration rolls.

This year, for the first time since 2006, Indiana is double checking the rolls and will purge voters from the list.

Yesterday, the county had about 199,000 registered voters on its rolls. Ten years ago that figure was 174,000. Ten years before that (1994) it was 132,000.

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