More Allen County voters than ever before may cast their ballots early this year, showing a high level of interest with less than a week until the election.
Through Tuesday, 15,799 Allen County voters had cast early ballots in person – an increase of nearly 300 votes from the same point in 2008, when people voted early in record numbers – according to figures provided by the county election board.
“We always have tremendous turnout when there's a presidential election,” said Beth Dlug, director of elections for the county. “This election, it just seems like people are more passionate.”
Dlug said in-person early voting got off to a strong start Oct. 8, with about 570 votes that day, and hasn't let up since. While traditional mail-in absentee voting tends to stay consistent from year to year, Dlug said she has seen in-person voting increase as people embrace the convenience and assurance of casting their ballots ahead of time.
On Wednesday morning, well over a dozen people waited in line for the next open voting booth at the election board office, 1 W. Superior St.
Voters who spoke with The News-Sentinel confirmed Dlug's observations, saying they felt passionate about the election but needed a convenient way to vote before Nov. 6.
“It's the convenience of it, absolutely,” said 33-year-old Sarah Starke, of Fort Wayne, who added that she has young children and may not have had time to vote on Election Day. “It's too important for me not to make my vote be heard,” she said.
Starke, who described herself as more liberal than the average Allen County voter, said she voted against Republican U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock because of his recent comments that when a rape victim becomes pregnant, the pregnancy is part of God's plan.
Rich DeHabey, 54, of Fort Wayne, said he works two jobs and won't be able to vote on Nov. 6 but saw the election as important enough to vote early. A self-described conservative, DeHabey said he voted for Mitt Romney because he disapproves of President Obama's path for the country.
“I just think we're headed in the wrong direction, and we need to get some of our values back,” DeHabey said.
Overall, 15,799 voters cast ballots in person through Tuesday, compared with 15,514 at the same point four years ago. But counting traditional absentee ballots, early voting this year still has not surpassed 2008 levels, according to election board figures. The total number of absentee and early votes through Tuesday stood at 24,365 – a few hundred fewer than the 25,030 cast through Oct. 30, 2008.
In-person voting at the election board office spiked Monday, as voters cast 1,354 ballots. On Saturday, when 1,226 people voted, some voters stood in line for up to an hour, but Dlug said election workers can generally move about 175 through the lines each hour. Wait times average about 30 minutes, she said.
In-person early voting will continue 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. through Friday; 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday; and 8 a.m.-12 p.m. Monday.