Having seen signs of a huge voter turnout for this year’s Indiana primary during the registration process, election office workers were ready for a big first day in early votes being cast.

But such needed preparation turned out to be a little early, too.

While 62 residents had cast their ballots by the time the county courthouse closed at 5 p.m. Tuesday, there were indications those numbers could have soared higher.

Just one week earlier, election workers arrived to discover 400 additional residents had registered to vote in just one day, said Shari Lentz, Bartholomew County voter registration and election supervisor.

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On Monday, the staff was surprised again as they faced a strong and steady stream of residents on the final day of voter registration, Lentz said.

“We had someone at our counter almost all day long,” she said. “With all that, we expected a lot of voters.”

Then, when five people were ready to vote when the courthouse opened Tuesday morning, Lentz and her staff prepared for the possibility of long lines by setting up a third voting machine.   

It turned out the extra machine wasn’t needed — at least not that day. The most likely reason that more people didn’t vote Tuesday is that many are still deciding which candidates they will support, Lentz said.

But paid staff and members of the Bartholomew County Election Board emphasized that day there’s no doubt in their minds significantly larger turnouts are just around the corner.

Although a number of registrations are still pending, a preliminary estimate shows about 54,700 Bartholomew County residents will be registered to vote this year.

That’s 3.6 percent more than the 2008 primary, and 7.7 percent more than in 2012, according to official records.

Why vote early?

Lentz said people who have voted early so far seemed to have their mind made up about their candidates, with a strong interest in the outcome of one or more races.

For early voter Paul Norman of Columbus, the most exciting race is the one for the White House, he said.

“I think we definitely need a change in our way of doing things,” Norman said.

The fact that Hoosier voters are likely to have an impact on the selection of party nominees for president “makes this one of the most interesting presidential races I’ve seen in a long time,” said Bartholomew Superior Court 1 Judge Jim Worton, who became the 46th person to cast a ballot Tuesday.

But when Doug and Pam Hollenbeck came in to cast ballots immediately after Worton, the Columbus couple expressed far more interest in two local contests.

“It’s going to be interesting to see what happens in the county commissioners race,” said Doug Hollenbeck, a retired Columbus city firefighter now working with Columbus Township Fire and Rescue. 

Three Republicans are vying to be the sole District 1 commissioner candidate advancing to the general election.

The selection of a new judge to succeed Stephen Heimann, who is retiring after 25 years of presiding over Bartholomew Circuit Court, has a great deal of appeal, Pam Hollenbeck said.

There were also more personal motivations revealed by those who were among the first to cast ballots in the 2016 primary election.

One is avoiding long lines that were experienced during the 2012 general election.

“At Donner Center, I had to wait two hours in line,” Norman said. “Now is a good time to vote, when you don’t have a long wait.”

Mailings on the way

One of the main objectives of a mass mailing that will be sent to about 23,000 Bartholomew County residents later this month is to encourage them to cast their votes early to minimize those lines, election board member Julie Schuette said.

The mailings — which outline dates, hours, locations and other details regarding early voting and vote centers — should arrive in mid-April just before satellite early voting locations open April 25, county clerk Jay Phelps said.

Schuette said that people who wait until election day risk having to wait in line to cast ballots, Schuette told the Bartholomew County commissioners.

County commissioners approved spending $9,290 from the clerk’s annual budget for the mailings. Columbus residents who received similar information last year will not receive another mailing this year, Phelps said.

Another prevalent reason for early voting expressed Tuesday, as well as during other recent elections, is a nagging worry by some residents that unexpected circumstances might prevent them from casting a ballot election day.

“I feel it’s best to get in and get it done early, so nothing happens,” Worton said.

That wasn’t the judge’s only reason. After hearing a family member question the importance of voting, Worton hopes his early vote will inspire his 19-year-old son, Logan, to follow his lead and cast his ballot.

Where and when to vote

Early voting for the May 3 primary is now underway every weekday, from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the Bartholomew County Courthouse, 234 Washington St.  

Saturday voting will take place at the courthouse on April 23 and 30, from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m.

Starting April 25, three satellite locations will provide early voting:

  • Donner Center, 739 22nd St.
  • MainSource Bank (West), 2310 W. Jonathan Moore Pike
  • Flintwood Wesleyan Church, 5300 25th St.

Daily hours for the satellite locations are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. through April 29.  Those same locations, as well as the Courthouse, will be accepting early ballots April 30 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The final opportunity for early voting will be May 2 from 8 a.m. until noon at the Courthouse only.

Election day is May 3.

Republican ballot highlights

Republican primary ballot highlights

  • U.S. president
  • Three candidates for U.S. Representative (District 6): Charles Johnson, Jr., Luke Messer, and Jeff Smith.
  • Three candidates for State Representative (District 59): Ryan Lauer, Milo Smith and Lew Wilson.
  • Two candidates for State Representative (District 69): Nancy L. Franke and Jim Lucas.
  • Two candidates for Judge of Bartholomew Circuit Court: Scott Andrews and Kelly Benjamin.
  • Three candidates for Bartholomew County commissioner (District 1): Susan Thayer Fye, Larry Kleinhenz and Jorge Morales.
  • Five candidates running for at-large seats on the Bartholomew County Council – Bill Lentz, Michael Lovelace, Matt Miller, Evelyn Pence and Jim Reed.

Democratic ballot highlights

Democratic primary ballot highlights

  • U.S. president
  • Five candidates for U.S. Representative (District 6): Danny Basham, Jr., George Holland, Bruce Peavler, Ralph Spelbring and Barry Welsh.
  • Two candidates for State Representative (District 59): Dale Nowlin and Bob Pitman.
  • Two candidates for Hope Town Council (Ward 2): Nellie Meek and Greg Sims.
Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.