Early turnout for Indiana primaries highest in two decades

More Indiana residents have cast their votes early for the state's primary election than any of the previous nomination contests during the same time period in at least two decades.

The Indiana Secretary of State's Election Division reported Thursday that more than 157,000 early votes had been cast between April 5 and Wednesday. That's nearly 30,000 more for the same period for the 2008 primary, the last one without a presidential incumbent.

Observers have credited the increased turnout to the hotly contested presidential primaries from both Democrats and Republicans.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, is challenging former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, while the Republican nod pits business giant Donald Trump against Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Republicans also will choose nominees for an open U.S. Senate seat and two congressional seats.

This week is the last full week of campaigning, and candidates, mostly Republicans, have been crisscrossing the state in last-ditch efforts to win support before Tuesday.

"Typically by the time Indiana rolls around, it's a done deal," said Dr. Robert Dion, chairman of the University of Evansville's Department of Political Science. "It's unusual and gives us the chance to have our moment in the sun."

In 2008, Indiana saw a spike in voter turnout due to the close primary between Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Of the registered voters that year, 40 percent cast ballots for the primary, according to records from the Secretary of State's Office.

"2008 was amazing for Indiana because on the Democrats' side, two candidates were duking it out and fighting for very vote," Dion said. "This time, we have the unusual ability to have an influence on both parties. I don't think these conditions will repeat themselves."

Indiana's record-setting turnout so far follows a dismal 2014 general election — one of the lowest rates in the nation. State officials and some of the campaigns this year have stressed efforts to bolster early campaigning and increase turnout.

"That's very, very encouraging," Dion said. "It's always a good thing when voter turnout goes up. It's good for democracy."

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