Local officials prepare for early voting

Stickers with the words “I Voted Early” are shown in a container during early voting in the former FairOaks Mall in Columbus, Ind., Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. Mike Wolanin | The Republic

Bartholomew County election officials are making final preparations for the Nov. 8 general election, with in-person early voting set to start Wednesday.

Election officials will be setting up voting machines and other equipment early next week at the former Petals and Vine store at the NexusPark site. Officials plan to have eight voting machines at NexusPark but could add more if needed, said Bartholomew County Clerk Shari Lentz.

“We’re getting prepared to set up there next week,” Lentz said.

Where to vote

In-person early voting will be at the former Petals and Vine store in the interior of NexusPark, 2252 25th St., in Columbus weekdays 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Wednesday to Nov. 4 and Nov. 7 from 8 a.m. to noon.

Early voting also will be held at the former Petals and Vine store 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. the two Saturdays prior to election day — Oct. 29 and Nov. 5.

Voters should “enter the door between Rivieria Maya restaurant and Dunham’s Sports, which is different from last election because we’re in the interior of the mall instead of the old JC Penney store,” Lentz said.

There will be a banner at the door where voters should enter, as well as a greeter immediately inside to direct voters to the voting location, Lentz said. There also will be a wheelchair available for anyone who needs it.

Early-in person voting will also be held 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Oct. 29 and Nov. 5 in the Bartholomew County Council chambers in the Bartholomew County Governmental Office Building, 440 Third St., in downtown Columbus. No voting will be held at the Bartholomew County Courthouse.

Voters can also request absentee-by-mail ballots by contacting the Bartholomew County Voter Registration Office at 812-379-1604 or by going to indianavoters.in.gov.

The deadline to request an absentee-by-mail ballot is Oct. 27, and the deadline for the bipartisan Bartholomew County Election Board to receive an absentee-by-mail ballot is 6 p.m. on Election Day.

In the past, election officials have urged people who intend to return their ballots by mail to plan ahead in case of delays with the U.S. Postal Service.

Absentee-by-mail ballots also can returned in person at the Bartholomew County Courthouse, 234 Washington St., election officials said.

Voting requirements

To be able to cast a ballot in the Nov. 8 general election, voters must be registered to vote by the end of the day Tuesday.

The deadline to register online to vote at indianavoters.in.gov is Tuesday 11:59 p.m. People can also register to vote at the Bartholomew County Voter Registration Office, 234 Washington St., until 5 p.m. Tuesday.

For questions about ID requirements for voting in person, voters can call the Bartholomew County Clerk’s office at 812-379-1604 or go to indianavoters.in.gov, where you can also check your voter registration and see who is on your ballot.

As of Monday, there were 53,298 registered voters in Bartholomew County, up 561 since this year’s primary election, according county records.

School board races

This year, there are four contested Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. school board races and one contested Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp. school board race.

School board candidates are non-partisan, meaning that they are not on the Republican, Democratic or Libertarian tickets. It also means that people who vote straight ticket will still have to manually select their choices for school board.

“If they vote straight ticket, they do need to vote in the school board race separately because a straight ticket will not pick up any nonpartisan offices,” Lentz said.

If a voter selects the option to vote straight ticket, they are still required to go through each page of the ballot before finalizing their votes, Lentz said. As they do this, they will eventually get to the school board races and can make their choices.

“At the bottom of the screen, there’s always that arrow that you have to push to go on to the next page,” Lentz said. “So, you would come to the school board races … (and) you would be given the opportunity to (vote) if you wanted to. And we always instruct our poll workers to tell folks that so that they understand that.”

Expected turnout

Local election officials are anticipating a “nice” turnout for this year’s general election driven by numerous contested races. As of Wednesday, 96 people had already cast absentee-by-mail ballots, according to county records.

This year, there are 18 contested races for federal, state and county offices, not including several contested school board and township races.

In 2018, there were 10 contested races on the federal, state and county level and no contested BCSC or Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Board races.

“I think with lots of races contested, and with the school board races — they’re contested and (there is) a lot of interest there — that we will have a nice turnout for this general election,” Lentz said.

However, turnout is generally lower in midterm elections than in presidential elections, local officials said.

In 2018, 26,876 people voted in the general election, or 52.98% of registered voters, according to county records. By comparison, just 16,976 people voted in the 2014 general election, or 32.4% of registered voters.

At the same time, turnout in the 2022 primary was lower than in 2018. In May, 8,805 voters cast ballots in the primary, or 16.7% of registered voters. In 2018, 12,304 people voted in the primary, or 24.67% of voters.

Requests for absentee-by-mail ballots also have increased over the past couple midterm elections.

As of Monday, 519 absentee-by-mail ballots had been sent to Bartholomew County voters, according to county records. At the same point in the 2018 general election, 539 had been sent out, as well as 157 at the same point in 2014.

Voter registration deadline approaching

The deadline to register to vote in this year’s Nov. 8 general election is Tuesday. For more information on how to register, visit www.in.gov.sos/elections. A link on the site directs you to the form for online voter registration.