Midterm elections don’t happen until Tuesday, but 934 Calhoun County residents have already cast their votes.
Election officials say 1,104 of the county’s voters requested absentee ballots by the Thursday deadline to do so, a number that looks more like the turnout in a presidential election year.
“It’s been pretty busy,” said Shasta Platt, absentee ballot manager in the Calhoun County circuit clerk’s office.
Pundits and candidates for weeks have been predicting high turnout, with Democrats hoping for a “wave” anti-incumbent election that’s not uncommon in midterms and with Republicans hoping to block them. The state’s highest election official, however, isn’t convinced a turnout surge is coming.
“I still think it’s going to be 35 to 40 percent,” said Secretary of State John Merrill.
If he’s right, that would make the 2018 one of the lowest-turnout midterms in recent history. In recent decades, it’s been typical for a little more than half of the state’s voters to show up for gubernatorial elections. Presidential races typically draw around two-thirds of voters.
Merrill uses 2014, the last midterm election, as his model. Just 40 percent of the state’s voters turned out for the match between then-Gov. Robert Bentley and Democratic challenger Parker Griffith. Merrill argues that this election fits the same model, with an incumbent governor at the top of the ticket, seeking re-election.
Current Republican Gov. Kay Ivey became governor last year after Bentley resigned following his guilty plea to a campaign finance charge. She now faces a challenge from Walt Maddox, the Democratic mayor of Tuscaloosa.
“The enthusiasm isn’t the same as what you see in a presidential election year,” Merrill said.
Something is different in this year’s absentee totals, though. Calhoun County’s total of 1,104 absentee ballots requested is just 300 short of the 1,401 cast by absentee voters in the 2016 presidential election, according to totals collected by the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office. Roughly 400 of the county’s voters cast absentee ballots in the 2014 governor’s race, according to state records.
Talladega County, too, has had high absentee numbers so far.
“I’d say it’s about double the number from the last midterm election, but not nearly as high as a presidential election,” said Talladega County Circuit Clerk Brian York.
York said 765 people in the county have requested absentee ballots, compared to about 400 in 2014 and 1,200 in the high-turnout race presidential between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
“The funny thing is, I don’t hear people talking about the election,” he said. “That’s what’s crazy.”
David Hughes, a political science professor at Auburn University Montgomery, leans toward Merrill’s turnout estimate.
“I’d be a little surprised if we break 40 percent, given the most recent election,” Hughes said. Like Merrill, he uses past elections as models. Most of the races aren’t competitive, Hughes said, leading to a ballot that looks a lot like the one in 2014.
“This election could be a little different,” he said. “Maddox is running a better campaign than the Democrats ran in 2014.”
York, the Talladega County circuit clerk, said it’s not a sure thing that high absentee numbers will lead to high turnout on Election Day. Even if people are fired up, he said, unforeseeables like weather can have a big effect.
“Some people will not vote if they have to get wet,” he said.
Polls open at 7 a.m. Tuesday.