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First-time voters provide hope for better turnouts


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After the polls closed and all the votes were tallied, the disappointment became clear. Most Bartholomew County registered voters didn’t care enough to cast a ballot in the May 6 primary election.

Just 19.8 percent of the county’s registered voters — that’s 10,318 of 52,152 — took the time to vote in some fashion: Early at the county courthouse, by mail-in ballot, with the help of a traveling election board or by going to their precinct.

While it’s true that the percentage is almost identical to the 2010 mark of 19.7 percent, a turnout of less than 20 percent is atrocious. I consider less than 50 percent disappointing.

 

When you consider that this primary featured multiple Republican candidates seeking the nominations for sheriff, Superior Court 2 judge, two County Council positions, Columbus Township trustee and District 59 state representative, people had a reason to vote.

While it’s true that the turnout probably was affected by a lack of Democratic candidates — many spots were unfilled or uncontested — the low turnout also indicates that many Republicans chose not to vote.

That’s disheartening because the offices that these candidates seek have an impact on the lives of Bartholomew County residents. Residents should want to have a say in who represents them. Sadly, few do.

That’s called apathy.

If the trend of low turnout is going to change, it needs to start with those who are eligible to vote for the first time. People who have either consistently voted or not voted are more likely to remain set in their ways. But if more young voters understand the importance of casting a ballot and start that habit now, then more than just a relative handful of voters will decide who represents all county residents.

I was happy to learn that some young voters took advantage of the opportunity and voted for the first time in the primary.

One of those new voters is Riley Abram, a 17-year-old junior at Columbus East High School. He was eligible to vote at his age because he’ll be 18 by the time of the November general election. His birthday is in July.

Abram said he considers voting his responsibility as an American citizen.

He didn’t vote for a candidate for every race, because he didn’t know all the people, but he voted for candidates in the sheriff, judge and state representative races.

Abram said he felt proud after voting, which he did at 6:30 a.m.

“I felt like I contributed a little bit to society,” he said.

Abram noted that his government teacher, Troy Buntin, encouraged students to vote if they were eligible and informed them about how they could register.

Abigail Wilson was another 17-year-old East junior who was encouraged by Buntin and voted.

“I wanted my voice to be heard,” she said.

Wilson said her decision about which candidates she preferred were influenced by knowing some personally, name recognition from political signs and learning about the Republican and Democratic parties.

Wilson said she voted for a candidate in each race.

One of Wilson’s friends, 17-year-old Emily Steinrock, accompanied Wilson to her polling site and also voted, Wilson said.

The primary also was the first voting experience for two 18-year-old Columbus North High School seniors, Annie Day and Stephen Malburg.

Day and Malburg said their parents always vote, which set an example for them. Day said her parents encouraged her to vote, and both said their government teacher, Jerry Mihay, urged eligible students to vote and explained how they could register.

“That gave me the idea that (the election) was upcoming and it was something I needed to do,” Day said.

Day said she voted for every race. She knew of some candidates beforehand, but determined whom to vote for by talking with her father but also searching the Internet and campaign websites to learn more about the candidates’ views.

Being eligible to vote for the first time was exciting for Malburg and some of his friends, he said.

Malburg said he tried to make an educated decision on each candidate, based on what he knew about them and what he learned talking with other people.

Voting was a cool experience, he said.

“If I have the right to do it, I might as well take advantage of that freedom,” Malburg said.

All four students indicated that they planned to vote in the general election and in other elections in future years.

That would be a great trend to set.

Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at 379-5639 or johannesen@therepublic.com.

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