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Voters turnout at record rates

Tuesday's election highest midterm turnout in years

Iowa saw the highest voter turnout in the 2018 midterm elections in more than 10 years, according to state election officials — a development that was highlighted by record-breaking early voting totals and an effort from both major political parties to get less-active voters to the polls.

Of the more than 2 million total registered voters in Iowa, more than 1,321,000 cast a ballot during the midterm election at around 61 percent turnout rate.

In 2014, 1,142,000 Iowans cast their vote, with a 53 percent turnout.

The previous midterm, 2010, recorded 1,133,000 voters.

But this year’s totals were still far behind the 2016 presidential election, which saw 1,581,371 Iowans head to the polls, at a 72 percent turnout rate.

Big early voting totals had political experts in the state pondering the possibility of dramatic turnouts for the midterm, which traditionally sees a drop-off from presidential election years.

“What we saw this time that seems to have driven up the turnout, not just here in Iowa, but elsewhere, too, is that there was a huge push to get people to vote,” University of Iowa political science Professor Timothy Hagle said.

In Iowa, early votes totaled 529,612, according to the Secretary of State’s Office, exceeding the previous state high in 2014, which recorded 475,402 early votes.

Republicans cast 186,983 early votes this year — on pace with the last midterm election in 2014, when they registered 181,948 early votes.

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Democrats, on the other hand, exceeded their 2014 early votes this year. They cast 227,487 early votes this election, as compared to the 191,036 votes for early voting in the last midterm.

Early vote totals across the nation also were high. According to the Election Project, a voter turnout database run by a University of Florida professor, around 39 million Americans cast their ballots before Election Day, as compared to the 27.2 million people in 2014.

The general sense throughout the day at Eastern Iowa polling locations was that 2018 was an unusual midterm turnout.

“I’ve never seen a midterm election turnout like this before,” Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert said.

Approximately 68,000 people turned out to vote in Johnson County, at a 72 percent turnout, eclipsing the record of 53,855 total voters in the 2010 midterm race.

Early voting was an indicator for county officials of this turnout. The Johnson County Auditor’s Office reported 33,476 individuals cast a ballot early — including 21,623 from Democrats and 5,069 from Republicans.

Linn County saw this year’s total votes — 101,600 — exceed 2014’s totals of nearly 87,000 ballots.

The county registered some 36,881 total early votes, including 17,600 Democratic votes and 9,684 Republican votes.

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Both Republican and Democratic parties pushed hard this year to get their constituents to the polls this election. But the voting group to watch this midterm was the no-party voters, Hagle said.

According to state data, Hagle said, no-party voter turnout during midterms has remained low for the past two decades, and hasn’t risen higher than 40 percent since 1994.

It’s “political stuff” — such as the hearings to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court — that energize base voters in both parties. But if no-arty voters are not concerned with their economic situation, politics is not enough to turn them out to the polls, he said.

However, it appears the effort from both parties to sweep up no-party voters this year was a success.

“The thing about no-party voters is, if they lean one way or another, they’re probably going to act like a partisan voter and will be more likely to vote,” said Christopher Larimer, University of Northern Iowa political science professor.

“They certainly would be more likely to vote along party lines, if they’re leaning one way. They’re slightly more likely to vote than someone who is truly independent and is not as engaged in the political process,” Larimer added.

Political experts also kept an eye on those between the ages of 18 to 24, a voting block that traditionally votes at lower rates during non-presidential elections and has been the focus of some groups to encourage their turnout at the polls

“There’s always a push, whether it’s a presidential year or a midterm year, on college campuses,” Hagle said. “But this year, it seems to be more the case this year than it has in the past.”

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In Johnson County, home to the University of Iowa, County Auditor Weipert said he believes political rhetoric over the past two years not only drew in that age group, but other voters who typically don’t participate in midterm elections.

In fact, Johnson County already exceeded 2014’s numbers for individuals registering at the polls by late afternoon Tuesday, and that momentum continued throughout the day. By the time the polls closed at 9 p.m., 1,700 individuals had registered to vote.

As turnout Tuesday was so high, Hagle said it’s likely the state will see more of it.

“The lesson may have been learned (that) you can increase turnout by just pushing harder, and from a variety of sources,” he said.

“That’s one of the things we saw, where it’s not just the parties urging people to vote, you had celebrities doing it, you had companies, you had pretty much everyone everywhere you turned telling people to vote.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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