Four times as many Bartholomew County residents cast early ballots for today’s city primary election than in 2011.
This year’s increase continues a trend that was emerging four years ago.
The 3,109 ballots cast by Monday’s noon deadline was 13 times higher than were counted in the 2007 primary, the Bartholomew County Voter Registration Office reported.
But a heavy volume of early voting doesn’t necessary mean there will be a heavy turnout today, said Barb Hackman, Bartholomew County Republican Party chairwoman.
With no incumbent running for mayor of Columbus four years ago, Kristen Brown emerged victorious among three Republican challengers. She went on to defeat Democratic primary winner Priscilla Scalf in the 2011 general election.
That 2011 primary drew 24.2 percent of registered city voters, which was up sharply from a 6.5 percent turnout in the 2007 primary and 10.4 percent in 2003.
This year’s expansion of early voting sites under the new vote center system is likely one of the reasons early voting volume was up so dramatically, said Taylor Seegraves, deputy voter registration supervisor.
Hackman agreed that expanded early voting options have impacted early voting turnout.
“That’s a major factor,” she said.
Additionally, many voters have set aside reservations about casting pre-election day ballots that stemmed from an outdated requirement that voters needed a reason to vote early, Seegraves said.
Another equally important factor in the dramatic increase in early voting is the hotly contested mayor’s race, Seegraves said.
Brown is being challenged for the GOP mayoral nomination in today’s primary by at-large city councilman Jim Lienhoop.
“Unless the Democrats find a candidate, a lot of people realize this might be the race,” Hackman said.
Also, all but one of the council seats on today’s Republican primary ballot are contested.
“I think they have also generated interest,” Hackman said.
Still, some older voters expressed nervousness about the new vote center system, Seegraves said.
“Many told me they came to the Courthouse because they are more comfortable voting the same way they have in the past,” Seegraves said.
The local Democratic Party is fielding council candidates for District 1, District 2 and for one of two at-large berths on its city ballot. They will advance to the general election in November to face today’s Republican winners.
Scalf, Bartholomew County Democratic chairwoman, was traveling on business and unavailable for comment Monday.
Election officials are advising voters to check websites maintained by traditional media outlets such as The Republic, as well as social media, to get updates and avoid the possibility of long lines at any of the eight vote center locations.
The man who oversaw the technical changeover from precinct voting to vote centers says test runs have turned up no difficulties.
Jim Hartsook, Bartholomew County’s director of information technology, said that’s largely the result of researching different products and learning from mistakes made by other counties that introduced vote centers.
Early voting results should be available to the public about 6:15 p.m. today, Hartsook said.
“Rather than a trickling in (of election day voting results) the rest of the night like we’ve experienced in past elections, I think we’re going to see huge waves of results come in at one time,” Hartsook said.
If all goes as planned, he anticipates final results between 8:30 and 9 p.m. tonight.
— Story by Mark Webber