State’s rules to affect ballots: Straight-party doesn’t include some offices

GREENFIELD — Voters who cast a straight-party ballot this fall could lose the chance to vote for at-large county council races if they aren’t careful.

Hancock County Clerk Marcia Moore urges residents to be mindful of a law change to the way straight-ticket voting works. State lawmakers this year abolished straight-party voting for at-large races, meaning voters casting a straight-ticket ballot must individually vote for the at-large council candidates they want to support. If they don’t, those candidates — even though they represent the party the voter supports — won’t receive a vote.

This fall, the law change will affect the five at-large candidates running for county council, which has three open seats.

Some candidates say they worry the change might result in lost votes.

The law change does not affect non-partisan races, such as those for school board.

Moore said the law requires clerks to post some sort of note on the ballot alerting voters to the change, and she’s looking at other ways, potentially signs posted throughout the vote centers, to remind them as they cast their ballots.

Still, some candidates might be left feeling short-changed Nov. 8, she said.

Straight-ticket voting is common in Hancock County, Moore said. During the 2012 general election, more than 11,000 voters cast straight-party ballots, accounting for nearly 34 percent of the votes cast, election records show. More than 8,000 of those votes came from Republicans; about 3,200 were cast by Democrats.

Moore considers the law change a disservice to voters. Voters don’t always know every candidate on the ballot, but they know what party their values align with, Moore said, which is why they choose to vote straight-ticket.

It’s a valid vote, in her opinion, and the law change might result in some candidates missing out on votes that were intended to be cast in their favor.

Although straight-party voting is popular in Hancock County, it’s less common across the nation. Indiana is one of only nine states that still allows voters to cast straight-ticket ballots, according to The National Conference of State Legislatures.

The original bill that resulted in the change in the law called for lawmakers to abolish straight-ticket voting altogether. The revised version was signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence in March.

For now, candidates and parties are working to alert residents to the change.

Kent Fisk, an at-large Republican candidate for county council, said as he sends out advertisements and meets with residents, he’ll alert them to the change in hopes he doesn’t miss out on any votes.

In a perfect world, straight-ticket voting wouldn’t be needed, but it’s hard to reach every voter, he said. Straight-ticket voting is a valid option that gives residents the option to cast a ballot in favor of the party they support, even if they don’t know each candidate.

But some candidates say the change might help them get elected.

Democratic at-large council candidate Rita Johnson said the change might mean fewer Republican votes, which could swing the election in her favor.

Still, a fair number of Democrats cast straight-ticket ballots, so the party is informing the residents they meet to be prepared for the change, said Johnson, whose husband, Randy Johnson, is the county’s party chairman.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.