A late surge in last-minute early voters may give hope to political challengers wanting to buck the recent trend of incumbents profiting from tepid public interest in spring primaries.
A total of 5,495, about 1.6 percent of Lake County's 350,000 registered voters, had cast ballots either by mail or in person between March 21 and Monday's noon deadline, according to the county elections board.
Nearly 2,200 voted in the last week alone. The total over the 34-day early voting period is 21 percent higher than four years ago when candidates were running for the same mix of local legislative, county, township and town offices were on the ballot.
In Porter County, 1.1 percent of registered voters took advantage of early voting this year at sites in Valparaiso, Portage and Chesterton.
Just 1,401 of 117,000 registered voters cast ballots either in person or by mail, said Kathy Kozuszek, who serves as the Democratic director at the Porter County Voter Registration Office.
Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether Tuesday's primary will buck the trend of low turnout in non-presidential election years when four out of five registered voters typically shun the polling place.
"It's a mid-term election," said Dan Dernulc, Lake County Republican Party chairman. "We don't have a senator, president or governor running. Nothing big is going on outside of local elections."
Typically, that is good news for incumbent officeholders who can count on a proven base of voter support as a bulwark against their challengers.
Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., Lake County Democratic Party chairman, said he was reminding Sheriff John Buncich during a recent discussion about tepid voter interest.
"I told him, traditional, political wisdom says that benefits you," McDermott said he told Buncich.
Buncich, who is seeking re-election, is in a three-way race with Richard Ligon and Lake County Police Sgt. Oscar Martinez.
Some 114 candidates are on the ballot in 30 contests in the Democratic primary and 21 in the Republican primary. More than 70 others are unopposed this spring.
Calvin Bellamy, president of the Shared Ethics Advisory Commission, reminded voters 121 Republican and Democrat party candidates have signed the Ethics Action Pledge to sponsor ethics training for their staffs, approve an ethics policy and advocate for whistle-blower protection for employees who report ethics violations
That includes 77 candidates in Lake, 28 in Porter and 16 in LaPorte counties, many of whom are running for county offices.
Bellamy said Kimberly Robinson, a Democratic challenger for Calumet Township trustee; Center Township Assessor Kristie L. Dressel, a Republican; and Joyce Webster, a Republican candidate for Portage Township advisory board, signed the pledge after his initial list was published.
Republican voters in Porter County will choose nominees in races for commissioner and county council.
Incumbent Commissioner Nancy Adams is seeking re-election. She is being challenged by William LaFever and Jeff Good. The winner of that race will face Democrat Sylvia Graham in the fall.
Democrats will decide whether to slate Harold Lush or former Sheriff David Reynolds. The winner of that race will face Republican Mike Brickner in the fall. Incumbent Sheriff Dave Lain, who has served two consecutive terms, may not seek re-election.
Voters in Hebron will decide through a referendum whether to allow for a tax increase to direct more money to the Metropolitan School District of Boone Township.
The Lake County elections board announced Monday two new polling places at the last minute for East Chicago Precinct 17 at the East Chicago Riley Park Pavilion, 1005 E. Chicago Ave., and for Gary Precinct 5-5 at the Lincoln Achievement Center, 1988 Polk St., Gary.
Jim Wieser, an attorney for the Lake County elections board, said the elections board has more employees on duty this year to handle routine questions about polling places and voter eligibility. He said he and election board members will deal with any technical issues that disrupt voting.
Porter County Editor John Scheibel contributed to this report.