Some voters rewarded for casting ballots

Voting is considered a civic duty, and at Grace Lutheran Church volunteers made sure each resident was rewarded for fulfilling that duty.

As they exited the polls, voters were met with a spread of cookies, doughnuts, brownies, tea, water and several other goodies to reward them for casting a ballot.

The food was prepared by Grace Lutheran volunteers, who said they want residents to feel welcome voting at the church.

“There’s a rumor that we’re the best voting center around,” said Ken Vorthmann, a Grace Lutheran member who volunteered at the refreshments table.

Although Vorthmann was kidding, voters said they enjoy taking advantage of the church’s thoughtfulness.

“I was getting ready to go vote and I thought, ‘Oh, Grace Lutheran has snacks,'” said Christine Briggs, who voted at the church.

And with the new voting centers system, Vorthmann said his congregation can reach a much larger audience by providing an incentive for people to visit the church.

“People come from all around to vote here,” he said.

Major problem averted

Sometimes people say technology is either a blessing or a curse, but at the west-side MainSource Bank voting center the updated voting technology fell into both extremes.

Everything was operating smoothly until suddenly one of the voting center’s three machines began telling voters that there had a been a “fatal error” with their ballots.

“‘Fatal error’ — that sounds really bad,” said Gretchen Fisher, who worked as the inspector at MainSource.

The machine began repeating its message to every voter who tried to use it, even after the election workers tried to restart it, Fisher said.

Eventually, the county clerk’s office had to remove the machine from the bank, which put only a mild strain on the center’s ability to keep up with voters.

Another part of the machine’s technological makeup saved the day.

“I thought we were going to lose everybody’s votes, but apparently they can go into the machine and get their votes,” Fisher said.

Solid early turnout

Early absentee voting this year slightly surpassed 2011 levels, Bartholomew County Clerk Jay Phelps said. By the time it ended at noon Monday, 1,453 voters had cast ballots. That exceeds the 2011 early voting by about 90 votes, Phelps said.

He added that 86.4 percent of this year’s ballots came from walk-in voters, while the remainder consisted of mail-in ballots and travel-board count. The travel board travels to homes and nursing homes to take the votes of those unable to leave their homes.

Light voting traffic

The word used to describe Tuesday voting in Columbus was “quiet,” Phelps said, noting there had been no long lines at the eight voting centers.

Phelps predicted that voter turnout would be 13 to 15 percent of all registered voters in Columbus. In comparison, turnout for the 2011 election, which featured a heated mayoral race between Republican Kristen Brown and Democrat Priscilla Scalf, was 33.12 percent. The 2007 total was 21.74 percent during the year that Democrat Mayor Fred Armstrong won his fourth and final term by defeating Republican challenger Mark White.

Worth the effort

Anniston Backmeyer and Maggie Gregory, who stood outside the Healing Waters Church voting center to campaign for their friend Laurie Booher, the long day was worth it.

Backmeyer and Gregory arrived at the voting center at 6 a.m. and planned to stay for the full 12 hours of the voting period, pushing through the day’s temperature swing.

“At first we were freezing, but now we’re burning up,” Backmeyer said.

After a long day spent speaking with voters, holding up signs and anxiously awaiting the election’s results, the women said they were going to reward themselves for their efforts in the best way they knew how.

“I’m going to sleep a long time,” Gregory said.

Easy process

The days of manually looking up a voter’s precinct or filling out a paper ballot are long gone. Instead, updated voting technology made finding a precinct as simple as scanning a bar code, and casting a ballot as easy as pushing a button.

“It’s great,” said Jean Marr-Wilkins, an election worker at the voting center at The Commons.

The new voting system was unveiled in the May primary and was successful enough to make another appearance at Tuesday’s general election, said Marr-Wilkins, who has worked four elections.

To check in a voter, all poll workers have to do is scan the back of the driver’s license, she said. Then, residents cast their ballots on a computerized voting machine.

No matter how they cast their votes, she said, residents always ask the same thing: “Can I have a sticker?”

“Why else would you vote?” she said.

Voting important

No matter who you are or how important your job is, you’re never too busy to vote, said state Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus. That was his message for local residents after he submitted his ballot in Tuesday’s city election at MainSource Bank.

“I’ve never missed a voting opportunity since I’ve been old enough to vote,” Smith said. “When I was growing up, I was taught to be a good citizen. That means you vote.”

As chairman of the elections committee in the House of Representatives, Smith’s job is to ensure the election process is simple for all voters. That’s why he introduced legislation nine years ago that created the new voting centers open to all residents, rather than specific polling places.

“It took a while, but I’m persistent,” he said.

In the next session of the General Assembly, Smith said, he wants to try to further simplify the voting process by introducing legislation that would allow cities to schedule all of their elections on even-numbered years, rather than asking citizens to vote each spring and fall.

No major issues

The Bartholomew County Courthouse was closed Tuesday, but volunteers and staff in the Voter Registration Office answered calls from residents asking where they can vote, Phelps said.

A couple of voting machines had to be reset during the morning and early afternoon, but no major technical problems occurred, Phelps said.

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