5 min read

The Hoosier State's Lackluster Voter Turnout

This post is a part of my “1,001 Data Visualizations of Indiana” project. See the rest of it here.


Another election, another poor showing for voter turnout in Indiana. As I currently type, Indiana’s Voter Eligible Turnout Rate (VEP) for the 2022 midterm elections is estimated to be just 39.7% per Michael McDonald of the ElectProject . VEP rates are calculated based on the total number of people eligible to vote, not just those who are registered.

This places Indiana well below the national VEP turnout rate of 46.9% and behind most other states. These numbers are not final, but by McDonald’s estimates Indiana will come in 45th–a very poor showing.

Figure 1.1

To punctuate just how bad turnout was in Indiana, look at this map of turnout by state for the 2022 election. Two states bordering Indiana (Michigan and Wisconsin) ranked 3rd and 5th in turnout while Illinois and Ohio ranked 16th and 21st respectively. Even Kentucky ranked higher at 30th.

Figure 1.2

I pulled turnout numbers for the last six federal elections preceding the 2022 midterms to produce the maps below. While Indiana might be small on the maps, it’s clear that the state is consistently at the low end of the turnout distribution: the Hoosier State’s average voter turnout ranking of these last six elections is 44th.

Figure 1.3

Here are the top ten turnout states between 2010 and 2020 along with their average ranking over that time period.

## # A tibble: 10 × 3
##    state_name    avgrank6 region   
##    <chr>            <dbl> <chr>    
##  1 Minnesota          1.8 midwest  
##  2 Wisconsin          3.5 midwest  
##  3 Maine              4   northeast
##  4 Colorado           4.5 west     
##  5 Iowa               7.2 midwest  
##  6 Oregon             7.2 west     
##  7 New Hampshire      9.5 northeast
##  8 Washington         9.5 west     
##  9 Massachusetts     11.8 northeast
## 10 Montana           12.5 west

The same group of states generally top the turnout list year after year. Minnesota has a long tradition of high voter turnout and has had pro-voter policies like same-day registration since 1972. Laws that make voting easier seem to positively influence voter turnout, but some states have high turnout in spite of being places that make it relatively difficult to vote. Wisconsin, for example, has ranked 3rd on average voter turnout in the last six elections despite ranking almost last on the “Cost of Voting” Index.. The Cost of Voting Index takes into account things like “registration, inconvenience, early voting, polling hours and absentee voting” to rank states on how difficult it is to cast a ballot.

In Wisconsin’s case, highly competitive elections might have something to do with recent high turnout there. Either a Presidential or Governor’s race has been decided within 1.5 percentage points in 2016, 2018, and 2020 in Wisconsin. But, elections before that weren’t so close and the state still had relatively high turnout.

New Hampshire is another example of a state with high turnout but considerable barriers to voting. The Granite State ranked last in the 2022 Cost of Voting Index but has an average ranking of 10th over the last six elections. I am in no way arguing that laws making it easier to vote don’t influence turnout–far from it. It’s likely that states like Wisconsin and New Hampshire would have even higher turnout with different laws. Minnesota’s turnout of nearly 80% in the 2020 Presidential Election shows that it is possible to get higher turnout than previously thought possible in modern elections and is likely due in part to increased access to the ballot.

Conversely, here are the states with the ten lowest average turnout rankings during the 2010-2020 time period.

## # A tibble: 10 × 3
##    state_name     avgrank6 region   
##    <chr>             <dbl> <chr>    
##  1 South Carolina     38   south    
##  2 Mississippi        42.5 south    
##  3 Indiana            43.2 midwest  
##  4 Arkansas           43.2 south    
##  5 New York           44.7 northeast
##  6 Hawaii             44.7 west     
##  7 Oklahoma           46.3 south    
##  8 Texas              46.7 south    
##  9 Tennessee          47   south    
## 10 West Virginia      47.2 south

South Carolina, Texas, and Mississippi are all on the bottom of both the average turnout ranking list and the Cost of Voting Index–meaning they are more difficult places to cast a ballot. All are also southern states (according to the Census Bureau’s definition). In fact, seven out of the ten lowest ranked states for turnout are in the Census south.

There may be a regional trend here. The average turnout ranking of a southern state was 33rd, while the average ranking of a southern state was 20th. Northeastern and western states also have significantly higher average turnout rankings than southern states.

## # A tibble: 4 × 2
##   region    regrank
##   <chr>       <dbl>
## 1 midwest      20.2
## 2 northeast    20.7
## 3 south        33.1
## 4 west         25.8

For what it’s worth, Indiana ranks 36th on the Cost of Voting Index I’ve cited throughout this post. In a state that consistently struggles to produce robust voter turnout, a change in law on things like same-day registration or universal vote-by-mail would be a welcome step towards higher turnout.

I’ll look to others with more robust academic analyses to determine more definitively what makes a high and low turnout state, but it’s clear that this is another example of Indiana fitting more in the south than the midwest, a topic we have explored on this site before.

-Aaron


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