The 2018 primary race is on.

Turnout on the opening morning of early voting was modest, as expected. It is likely to remain light until the week of April 30, said Bartholomew County Clerk Jay Phelps, who oversees local elections.

That’s the week before the May 8 primary, when candidate signs outside vote centers, newspaper advertisements and social media posts all begin to remind people that it’s time to vote, he said.

Some residents prefer to wait to cast ballots at voting center locations that will open starting April 30 because they offer more parking spaces and fewer steps than the Courthouse, the clerk said.

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Phelps forecasts that 11,000 to 12,000 Bartholomew County residents will vote in the primary election, which requires voters to request either a Democratic or Republican ballot.

Such a turnout would be slightly higher than the 10,318 (14 percent of eligible residents) that cast ballots in the 2014 midterm election primary, but well below the 22,448 (28 percent of eligible residents) who cast primary ballots during the 2016 presidential election year.

The fixation that many Hoosiers have with presidential elections is something hard to break — even for those who have the most to gain or lose, said Chris Monroe, Columbus attorney and former county judge.

After becoming the 16th voter Tuesday, Monroe recalled talking to a large group of Bartholomew County employees who insisted on a Democrat ballot in 2008, so they could choose between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

When Monroe reminded them there were multiple GOP candidates running for Bartholomew County Council but few Democrats, he was surprised by their response.

“I told them it’s the people who serve on the County Council who decide what your salary is,” Monroe said. “But my argument wasn’t persuasive. They told me they still wanted the Democratic ballot.”

But this year’s midterm election is seen by many as a referendum regarding the administration of President Donald Trump.

Retired surgeon Dr. Rob Forste, who was the 14th person to vote, said he views this year’s state legislative races as critical.

For Monroe, the most interesting race on the ballot will be the decision on who will be chosen to succeed retiring 59th District State Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, who chose not to seek reelection and will retire as the end of the year. Five Republicans and two Democrats are hoping to take Smith’s place in the Indiana General Assembly.

But for Gloria Curry of Columbus, who cast her ballot at about noon Tuesday, the three-way Republican race for Bartholomew County sheriff is significant.

“Since I’m a native, I’m acquainted with all the candidates,” Curry said. “But whether it’s at the federal, state or local level, all the races are important and matter equally for me.”

Early voting trends

Cora Jeffries of Columbus became the first Bartholomew County resident to cast a vote this year at 8:02 a.m. Tuesday. Jeffries checked in just moments before Denise Pence, wife of 6th Congressional district candidate Greg Pence, Phelps said.

Early voting in Bartholomew County went up 5 percentage points during the most recent midterm election in 2014, compared to the 2010 primary, according to county records.

But Phelps said it wasn’t until the 2015 debut of vote centers that early voting started to gain widespread popularity. That’s when four out of 10 Columbus residents cast early ballots. In 2016, 28 percent of all primary voters in Bartholomew County cast early ballots.

Curry, Monroe and Forste all used the same word to describe why they vote early: convenience.

For Forste, it’s a shorter waiting time. Monroe said it was an easy walk from his office. And Curry said she wanted to get voting off her to-do list before visiting relatives out-of-state.

Although the 18 vote center locations in Bartholomew County are the same as two years ago, there is one change from the 2016 election. The state of Indiana no longer requires early voters to sign an absentee voter application, which means only one signature will be required, Phelps said.

Phelps urges everyone to look at sample ballots available at the Courthouse to make sure they know who they can and can’t vote for in the primary before checking in.

“Once they get checked in on a poll pad and start voting on a machine, they cannot go backwards,” Phelps said.

Early voting schedule

Early voting for the May 8 primary began Tuesday.

Registered voters can cast ballots from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the courthouse, 234 Washington St.

Early voting is available at the courthouse from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays through May 4, and from 8 a.m. to noon May 7. Saturday voting hours at the courthouse are 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 28 and May 5.

The week before the primary, registered voters can also cast ballots at three voter centers: Donner Center, 739 22nd St.; MainSource Bank, 2310 W. Jonathan Moore Pike; and Flintwood Wesleyan Church, 5300 25th St.

New voters will need to provide proof of current residence before casting a ballot.

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