The reasons for the apathy are varied, according to local political experts, and include general indifference, disgust with negative advertising and a desire to vote on national issues now.
“It’s just a general malaise that people are frustrated with all levels of government,” local Democratic Party spokesman Kevin Knuth said. “Some people are simply throwing their hands up and walking away.”
Because turnout is largely affected by the race at the top of the ticket, this year’s Fort Wayne mayoral contest offered some reasons for people staying home, said Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics.
Downs said voters might have looked at the two major candidates – Democrat Tom Henry and Republican Paula Hughes – and not seen much difference or felt they were OK with either winning.
He compared Henry’s victory with that of Republican Mayor Greg Ballard in Indianapolis – which also had a turnout percentage in the high 20s – in that each were likable incumbents “who hadn’t screwed anything up.”
Republican Councilman-elect John Crawford said during the spring that apathy was the biggest challenge Republicans faced in unseating Henry.
“People weren’t all that upset by Henry,” he said.
Crawford said he predicted the turnout percentage in the low 30s, but he believed the onslaught of negative campaigning in the mayor’s race at the end drove even more voters away.
The drop in numbers hurt both parties and was seen across the city. Henry received about 8,000 fewer votes than he did in 2007.
Hughes received just 400 votes more than Matt Kelty four years ago, and he was facing several criminal indictments at the time of the election.The defeat for Hughes in Fort Wayne is particularly troublesome for the local GOP in Allen County. Since the last election, the city annexed most of heavily Republican Aboite Township into the city. At the time of the annexation, Republicans believed it would give the party a big advantage in the baseline vote, which already favors Republican in the state's second-largest city. Henry's win four years ago was attributed to pending campaign finance-related charges against his Republican opponent, Matt Kelty, who later pleaded guilty to felony charges of not reporting six-figure loans made to him by two key supporters to help finance his campaign.
Source: Allen County Election Board