Why vote in midterms, & who’s on the ballot? These resources seek to boost voter turnout & education

What will voter turnout be like this November in the Fort Wayne area? Two groups are working toward greater citizen participation in our local elections.
 
According to data available on the Allen County Election Board’s website, 64 percent of registered voters cast their ballots in the 2020 general election. But for the primary election held earlier this year, only 13 percent of registered voters turned out.
 
Fickle voter turnout, particularly for elections deemed “less important” by the public, is not unusual across the U.S. While midterms (elections held two years into a presidency) are often far less attended than presidential elections, they can have just as big of an impact locally and nationally.
 
The U.S. Embassy reports: “Most of the attention of midterm elections is focused on the two chambers of Congress: the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives. Members of the House are elected for two-year terms, so all 435 seats are decided during the midterm elections.” It quotes Gary Nordlinger, a professor of politics at George Washington University, saying: “Whoever controls the House or the Senate controls the agenda.”

Betsy Kachmar, Co-President of League of Women Voters of Fort Wayne holds up voting information at the Allen County Public Library Tecumseh branch.
 
Depending on when midterms fall, they can also decide several positions at the state and local levels, ranging from governor to school boards to city and county municipal government roles.
 
Mayor Tom Henry’s term lasts until 2024, and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s term lasts until 2025, so neither of them are on the ballot this fall. But you will find candidates for Allen County judges, assessor, auditor, recorder, sheriff, county commission, county council, circuit court clerk, prosecuting attorney, and superior court judges.
 
One group helping voters realize the importance of the upcoming election and find information about candidates is the League of Women Voters. For the past few months, volunteers with the Fort Wayne chapter of the League have been taking part in voter engagement efforts ahead of the upcoming election.

Betsy Kachmar, Co-President of League of Women Voters of Fort Wayne at the Allen County Public Library Tecumseh branch on October 17, 2022.
 
The League of Women Voters was started in 1920, six months before the passage of the 19th amendment legally guaranteeing women the right to vote. Some of the women who had been involved in the suffrage movement created the League to help “women carry out their new responsibilities as voters.” While the League was started by women for women, the organization today encourages informed participation by everyone in our American democracy.
 
Betsy Kachmar, President of the Fort Wayne chapter of the League of Women Voters, says they have had more people interested in volunteering to work at their information tables this year than in years past. Volunteers have been setting up at local high schools and colleges, farmers markets, and other public events.
 
“It has been a logistical challenge, but it's a great problem to have,” says Kachmar. “I really do feel like people are much more engaged this year, especially for a non-presidential election.”

Betsy Kachmar, Co-President of League of Women Voters of Fort Wayne, right, talks with Chris Castaldi about voting at the Allen County Public Library Tecumseh branch.
 
Voter registration closed on Tuesday, Oct. 11, in Indiana, and Allen County will have about  270,000 people eligible to participate in the Nov. 8 election. The League has now shifted its engagement efforts from registering voters to helping voters make informed choices and encouraging them to vote early.
 
Personalized Voting Information
 
The website vote411.org, started by the League of Women Voters Education Fund (LWVEF) in 2006, aims to be a "one-stop-shop" for voter information. One of the features on the website, the “Voter Guide,” went live with Allen County candidate information for the November election earlier this month.

Betsy Kachmar, Co-President of League of Women Voters of Fort Wayne shows off the Vote411.org app at the Allen County Public Library Tecumseh branch.
 
To use the Voter Guide, individuals can enter their address and find out their polling place and see a sample ballot. The ballot has the names of the candidates, along with answers (if the candidate responded) to questions about topics relative to the office they seek. This informative tool makes it possible for voters to compare candidates side-by-side.
 
Kachmar thinks candidates are getting better about answering the vote411.org questions than they have been in the past, and the League’s volunteers have gotten better at following up. She also believes that since the database has been in use for a couple of election cycles now, it is just becoming more well-known.
 
“Maybe (the candidates) are starting to realize that it's worth doing,” she says.

Betsy Kachmar, Co-President of League of Women Voters of Fort Wayne shows off the Vote411.org app at the Allen County Public Library Tecumseh branch.
 
One of the aspects of the Voter Guide Kachmar emphasizes is that voters can get information about candidates, like those running for school boards, that might have been harder to come by in the past.
 
“It's very difficult to get to know people who are running for school board without some kind of database where you can go and learn about them,” she says. “So we really have been focusing our efforts on trying to get school board candidates to answer the questions.”

Items on a voting information table set up by Betsy Kachmar, Co-President of League of Women Voters of Fort Wayne at the Allen County Public Library Tecumseh branch. Kachmar's team has set up similar tables in 40 locations in the last month. 
 
The Voter Guide is also helpful for other “down ticket'' positions that the public may not be as familiar with, like judges, for example. Kachmar says the League wants to see people participate fully in elections by voting for all the open positions, not just the more well-known ones. She points out that if you don't participate in some of the races because you don’t know anything about the candidates, the pool of voters making choices gets smaller.
 
“It’s easier to skew in one way or the other if people aren't voting, or if they're just not participating in that part of the ballot,” she says. “But then on the other hand, if you get people who are just saying, ‘Oh, well, their name starts with ‘A’ I'll vote for them,’ that's not really what we're trying to accomplish here.”

Betsy Kachmar, Co-President of League of Women Voters of Fort Wayne, right, talks with Chris Castaldi about voting at the Allen County Public Library Tecumseh branch.
 
Also important to the League’s efforts is encouraging people to vote early and to think of election day as the last day to vote.
 
“We're actually encouraging people to show up before election day,” says Kachmar. “It's convenient; there are usually fewer lines; and if something goes wrong, there is time to fix it.”
 
“We want everyone to vote,” says Kachmar. “And be educated voters.”

Items on a voting information table set up by Betsy Kachmar, Co-President of League of Women Voters of Fort Wayne at the Allen County Public Library Tecumseh branch. Kachmar's team has set up similar tables in 40 locations in the last month. 
 
Powering the polls more inclusively
 
Along with creating an informed electorate, staffing local polls with people from all walks of life is another important element of engaging more citizens in elections. 

In 2020, America was facing a poll worker shortage, so a group of businesses and nonprofits came together to create Power the Polls. According to its website, “Power the Polls is a first-of-its-kind, nonpartisan initiative for recruiting poll workers to ensure a safe and fair election for all.”

A Pew Research Center study showed that the majority of poll workers for the 2018 midterm election were over the age of 60. Young people (25 and under) made up only 8 percent of those working the polls. 

Before the 2020 election, Power the Polls recruited more than 700,000 potential poll workers. In May 2022, they relaunched efforts nationwide and have since recruited more than 125,000 new potential individuals to serve as poll workers during the midterm election.
 
“This year, Power the Polls sought to address poll worker shortages ahead of the election by recruiting a new wave of poll workers among younger, more diverse populations that have not historically filled these roles,” says Jane Slusser, Program Manager at Power the Polls. “To ensure a safe and successful election, Power the Polls works with its partners to diversify the ranks of poll workers; that means helping younger, tech-savvy, bilingual people, and communities of color raise their hands to get involved in representing their neighbors and families at the polls.”
 
Recruiting more youth and people of different races and backgrounds as poll workers might increase voter turnout for these populations as well, resulting in greater citizen participation in our election process.

This story is part of a series on the 8 Domains of Livability in Northeast Indiana, underwritten by AARP.

Read more articles by Jennie Renner.

Jennie Renner is a Hoosier native who has lived in the Fort Wayne area for most of her life. She believes that art, in all its forms, makes everything better. Her work can be found in Glo Magazine and Input Fort Wayne and self-published on Medium.