Busy start for early voting in Columbus

Early voting is proving popular among city primary voters this year.

In the first week after early voting began April 7 at the Bartholomew County Courthouse, 192 Columbus residents have already cast ballots, with nearly 94 percent asking for a Republican ballot. Republicans have the only contested races in the primary.

That compares to 20 who voted during the first week of absentee voting four years ago in the city election.

“Folks seem to be really motivated,” Bartholomew County Clerk Jay Phelps said.

As of 5 p.m. Monday, the county’s voter registration office had sent out 173 mail-in ballots, nearly all requesting GOP ballots, which is up 122 percent from four years ago.

Phelps said 71 mail-in ballots already had been returned by Monday, a 223 percent increase from the same time in 2011.

Four years ago, the race for mayor became a GOP contest when Democrat Fred Armstrong decided not to seek a fifth term. That’s when Republicans saw their best shot at regaining the mayor’s office in 16 years.

Phelps said 6,844 votes were cast in the 2011 primary, compared to 1,920 in 2007 and 2,746 in 2003.

Kristen Brown won against three other Republican mayoral candidates in the 2011 primary and went on to win as mayor by defeating Democrat Priscilla Scalf in the fall election.

This year, Brown is being challenged for the GOP nomination for mayor in the primary by city councilman Jim Lienhoop.

Updated voter-registration information shows that 30,425 Columbus residents eligible to vote in the primary, 7.7 percent more that the 28,249 that could have cast ballots four years ago.

“I don’t know how much (population growth) is a factor in early voting this year,” Phelps said. “I think it’s mostly the mayoral race, along with the ‘get out the vote’ efforts, mailings, surveys and yard signs.”

A number of voters fear they may be busy during the May 5 primary, so they are casting their ballots early when their schedules allow it, he said.

In addition to the mayor’s race, there are also primary challenges on the Republican ticket for the party’s nomination for Columbus City Council including:

Incumbent Ryan Brand being challenged by Bob Sullivan in the 2nd District

Incumbent Frank Jerome being challenged by Russ Poling in the 3rd District

Incumbent Frank Miller being challenged by Justin L. Hohn in the 4th District

Incumbent Tim Shuffett being challenged by Nathan Barr in the 5th District

Incumbent Kenny Whipker, Laurie Booher, Charles Doup and Debbie Kramer are seeking the nomination for two at-large council seats.

Incumbent Republican Dascal Bunch is unopposed in the 1st District council primary as is incumbent Republican clerk-treasurer Luann Welmer.

The three Democrats unopposed on the primary ballot are Christopher Rutan, running for 1st District council; Elaine Wagner, seeking the 2nd District council seat; and Tom Dell, seeking an at-large council seat.

Early voting sites

On April 25 and May 2, the number of early voting locations will widen from just the Bartholomew County Courthouse to three locations.

That’s when the west-side MainSource Bank branch, 2310 Jonathan Moore Pike, and Grace Lutheran Church, 3201 Central Ave., will have early voting. Saturday voting hours at both locations are 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Donner Center, 739 22nd St., will host early voting beginning April 27 through May 1 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and May 2 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

By the numbers

Number of people casting ballots in person during the first week of early voting:

  • 2011: 20
  • 2015: 192

Number of mail-in paper ballots requested during first week of early voting:

  • 2011: 78
  • 2015: 173

Number of registered voters eligible to vote in the city election:

  • 2011: 28,249
  • 2015: 30,425

Total votes cast in previous primaries during the city election:

  • 2011: 6,844
  • 2007: 1,920
  • 2003: 2,746
Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.