After a strong start, fewer Indiana residents are taking advantage of early voting for this year's election than in 2008, when a record quarter of all Hoosiers voters cast ballots before Election Day.
The Indiana secretary of state's office said more than 361,000 early ballots were cast around the state through Tuesday — about 10,000 fewer ballots than had been cast a week before the 2008 election.
But county offices around the state remained busy this week as residents lined up to cast absentee ballots ahead of Monday's noon deadline to vote in person before Election Day.
Early voting was strong in Hamilton County, a Republican stronghold just north of Indianapolis where 20,209 people had cast ballots by Tuesday. As of Wednesday afternoon, the county had logged about 500 more early votes than at the same time in 2008, said county election administrator Kathy Richardson.
Her office had seen a strong start to early voting in the first week of October, but that was followed by a lull. Richardson said it wasn't until last Thursday that lines started to form and since then voters have waited up to an hour in lines to cast their ballots in the presidential, governor's, U.S. Senate and other races.
"I think a lot of the people are a little tired of the advertising and a lot of them think once they've voted they don't have to pay attention to it anymore," Richardson said. "And they also know it's going to be busy on Election Day and they're trying to get ahead of it."
In Lake County, a Democratic stronghold that's the state's second-most populous county, more than 24,000 early ballots had been received as of Tuesday.
Sally LaSota, the administrative director of the Lake County Board of Elections and Registration, said that in the past week lines have formed at times at the county's six early voting sites.
"It's starting to pick up. People are lining up to vote and it's a real convenience for a lot of them," she said.
Secretary of state's office spokeswoman Valerie Kroeger said that while a state law first allowed Indiana residents to cast in-person early ballots in 2003, many people are still learning that it's a voting option for them, or discovering that doing so allows them to avoid big Election Day lines.
"It's amazing just how many people say 'I'm going to vote early' and act like it's something new, but it's not," she said.
Early votes are largely ballots cast in person at county clerk offices or absentee ballots mailed in, but voters have other options, including casting ballots before traveling election boards. In 2008, about 662,000 of the 2.8 million Indiana residents who voted in the general election cast their ballots before Election Day.
That was about 24 percent of all who voted that year, a new state record.
LaSota said that while nearly 37,000 Lake County residents cast early votes for 2008's general election, it's too early to know whether this year's early vote will approach or surpass that.
In Marion County, the state's most populous county, nearly 37,000 early ballots had been received as of Tuesday, nearly 4,500 fewer early ballots than had been received by the same date in 2008, said Angie Nussmeyer, a spokeswoman for the county clerk's office.
She said requests for mailed-in absentee ballots have recently been down about 25 percent compared with the final days before the 2008 election.