Election notebook: Same old story, Bloomington voter turnout is one for the ages

It’s the custom of Monroe County clerk Nicole Browne to send out hourly updates over the course of Election Day.

The May 2, 2023 municipal primary was no different. One of Browne’s updates included this note: “I tried to find the oldest voter who has participated in this municipal election…and, so far, she appears to be 99 years young.”

Browne’s update continued: “Her 100th birthday will be this summer and I want to acknowledge her making the concerted effort to vote.”

The B Square has now confirmed—based on the voter history file provided by county election staff—that it was a 99-year-old who was the most senior voter to cast a ballot in person, on Primary Election Day.

But that nonagenarian wasn’t the absolute oldest person to vote in the primary. After expanding the pool to include those who voted early—either in-person or with a mailed-in ballot, it was a 101-year-old living in the Bloomington 22 precinct, who earned the “absolute oldest” distinction.

On the other end of the spectrum was a 17-year-old living in the Perry 15 precinct, who was the youngest to vote in the May 2 primary. She will celebrate her 18th birthday eight days before the Nov. 7 general election. (In Indiana, it’s possible to vote in a primary, if you turn 18 by the time the general election takes place.)

What about all the other voters in between? How old were they?

The numbers in the most recent voter history file confirm that what’s true across the country is also true for Bloomington: Younger people vote at lower rates than older people. That proves to be true, pretty much no matter how the numbers are sliced.

The median age of Bloomington residents, according to the most recent 1-year community survey estimates, which are based on the 2020 decennial census, puts Bloomington’s median age at 23.8 years.

Of course, the median age of voters is higher than that, because everyone under 18 years old is excluded from that calculation. Based on analysis of the most recent voter history file, among registered voters in Bloomington, the median age is 36.8 years.

But the median age of people who cast a ballot in the May 2, 2023 primary election was 58.4 years, or more than 20 years older than the median age of all voters.

One reason for a big median age difference is the large number of college students who live in Bloomington.

College students, who tend to be younger, push the voter registration averages younger than they would be otherwise. That also means the statistical impact of lower voter participation rates by younger people is amplified—which makes for a bigger difference between the median age of registered voters and the median of those who participated in the election.

The relatively low participation rates in campus areas and nearby campus areas is evident in the maps that are included with this article.

But also evident from the maps is that in areas distant from campus, there is still a clear gap between the median ages of people who cast a ballot on May 2, and those who are registered to vote.

That is, the maps tend to confirm what is clear when voter participation is measured across the whole spectrum of age groups—namely, that voter participation increases with age. That is, it’s not the case that people older than 30 years vote uniformly at higher rates than those who are younger. For any age bracket, each next-older age group votes at a clearly higher rate.

But even for voters older than 65 years, their turnout rate was less than half, just around 39 percent.

Those numbers come in the context of this year’s record-setting turnout for a municipal primary. The numerical total of more than 8,000 votes on May 2, 2023 eclipsed the previous record number of votes cast, which came in the 1995 primary.

But this year’s turnout, measured as a percentage of registered voters, was still just around 18 percent.

7 thoughts on “Election notebook: Same old story, Bloomington voter turnout is one for the ages

  1. Same old story. This city is very one sided. Only one voice is heard.

    1. The other voices are welcomed to be heard. Where are they?

    2. Any other sides are welcomed to be heard. Where are they?

      1. We’re here Sue, but again it will always be one-sided on a county/city level.

  2. Nice report and graphics, Dave. But it looks like the median age of primary voters in the area northeast of the bypass was well over 70. Is that really true? If so, I wonder how many there were: if there were only 10, it’d be less surprising than if there were 200!

Comments are closed.