New early voting record in county

Bartholomew County has set a new early voting record and county officials are expecting a record turnout for today’s election.

When early voting ended at noon Monday, 16,109 Bartholomew County residents had cast early ballots, Bartholomew County Clerk Jay Phelps said. The previous record was 6,413 ballots cast early for the 2012 presidential election.

Arriving at the Bartholomew County Courthouse just before noon Monday, a Columbus couple found themselves as the final voters to cast early ballots locally.

Since Aaron Watson, 21, has Sundays and Mondays off work from his family owned business, he and his wife, Cheyanna Watson, 19, decided at the last minute to cast their votes early.

Both voting for the first time, each said they were motivated to join the 140-person line at the courthouse largely because of the presidential race.

“The future of this country is at a very big crossroads right now,” Aaron Watson said. “I’m really hoping that the American people come through, and make the right decision.”

When the couple left the Courthouse just before 2 p.m. Monday, county officials calculated that 29 percent of Bartholomew County’s 55,450 voters cast early ballots in this election.

Phelps said he expects this to be a record turnout in Bartholomew County.

In terms of total votes cast in the past two presidential elections:

  • 29,755 Bartholomew County voters cast ballots (57.4 percent turnout) in the November 2012 general election.
  • That was down from 31,570 votes cast (58.8 percent turnout) in the 2008 general election, which was the all-time high.

Bartholomew County isn’t the only geographic area where early voting was rampant.

Through Sunday, the state counted 711,337 absentee ballots cast in person and through other methods such as mail-in for today’s election, Secretary of State Connie Lawson said.

That’s nearly 49,000 ballots more than Indiana’s previous early voting record set in the 2008 general election.

While officials around the state say the large early voting numbers could help keep wait times down at Indiana polling places today, Phelps said there are no guarantees of that happening locally.

“But with what we’ve done, I would be shocked if we had two-hour lines (in Bartholomew County),” Phelps said.

The county’s top election official said he will utilize the simplest and most effective way of communicating with voters.

The clerk’s office will use its Facebook page to notify voters which voting centers have lines, which centers are not as busy, and any other information that could help voters avoid delays. The clerk’s office also has asked the media to take the information from the clerk’s office and share it on their websites.

“We will utilize our poll workers to find out which areas are getting hit the hardest,” Phelps said. “We will then ask our inspectors to let people (waiting to sign in) know where the lines are the shortest.”

But once a voter signs in at a vote center, the voter no longer has the option of going to another location, Phelps said.

Voters will receive a short explanation of how the voting machine works, as well as a reminder that straight-party voting will not allow a voter to automatically cast a vote in the at-large council races. Voters must scroll to that race and vote for it separately because there are multiple candidates being chosen for multiple seats.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.