Early voting off significantly from spring primary pace

Record-setting volume of early voting in the hotly contested spring mayoral primary has not carried over into the general election.

With the mayoral race settled with Republican challenger Jim Lienhoop’s win over incumbent Kristen Brown in the primary, the four contested City Council races are not generating as much interest from early voters in Columbus as was seen in May.

As of noon Monday, 312 early ballots had been cast for the Columbus municipal election, according to Taylor Seegraves, deputy voter registration supervisor.

Based on that trend, no one is expecting anything close to the 3,117 early votes that were cast in May’s primary election, when Lienhoop carried 67.6 percent of all Republican votes cast for mayor.

Early voting for this year’s fall election is not far off totals from four years ago, however, when 357 early votes were cast a week ahead of the 2011 city general election. That’s when Republican Brown and Democrat Priscilla Scalf ran a hotly contested race to succeed Democratic incumbent Mayor Fred Armstrong, who did not seek re-election.

The general-election variance is 12.6 percent fewer early ballots being cast compared with four years ago.

“It’s really not been that bad, considering the lack of competitive races,” said Seegraves, who began working for the county in 2009.

Others in Bartholomew County’s political circles agree, saying they also expected a lower early voting turnout in an election without a major race to draw in voters.

About 63 percent of city residents will have only one contested race this year — choosing among three candidates (two Republicans and one Democrat) vying for two at-large council positions.

The convenience of vote centers, which provides residents with greater choices regarding when and where they cast their ballots, may be one factor that helps make up for the lack of ballot choices, said Shari Lentz, Bartholomew County’s voter registration and election supervisor.

“I think it is contributing a lot to our numbers,” Lentz said. “More and more people realize they can vote early as an option instead of waiting until Tuesday.”

Another factor is that some residents might not want to publicly declare a party in the May primary but still wish to vote in the November general election, Bartholomew County Clerk Jay Phelps said.

“That’s especially true when some of the races are not entirely decided when May is over,” Phelps said. “We have a lot of names people know running for city council, and many just want to show them support.”

Frequent clashes between the all-Republican city council and Brown’s administration the past four years also might have generated public interest in this year’s election, said Scalf, a former city council member and current chairwoman of the Bartholomew County Democratic Party.

“People are beginning to see single-party government is not a happy situation,” Scalf said. “We need checks and balances. We need opinions and accountability from both sides.”

What should also entice more ballots to be cast through Tuesday is a realization that government at the local level has the greatest impact on people’s lives, Bartholomew County Republican Chairwoman Barb Hackman said.

“The city election is important, so I hope people don’t take it lightly,” Hackman said.

“When you think about what decisions the council makes, like how our money is spent, it’s important that people take it seriously and make a choice,” Scalf said.

While mail-in ballot requests are down substantially from four years ago, Phelps said those requests are almost exclusively from military personnel stationed overseas.

Others still in the community who once used paper mail-in ballots have shown an overwhelmingly preference for expanded early voting opportunities, Phelps said.

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.