GREENFIELD — It’s being called the “ho-hum election.”
While Labor Day weekend is traditionally the start of campaign hype for the general election in November, this year there are few contested seats at the top of Hancock County’s ballot.
For that matter, there aren’t very many choices for township and school board seats, either. Of the 49 seats on Hancock County’s ballots, only 14 have contested races. Since most of those are in district or township seats, people casting a ballot will see only a handful of choices for their precinct.
It’s making politicos wonder if voter turnout will be low and what that might mean for results.
“This is really a ho-hum election, which I think has a downside as well,” said Beverly Gard, former Republican state senator and observer of local politics.
Gard said when a small percentage of the public heads to the polls, there could be some upsets. Still, underdog candidates – the Democrats and Libertarians in local races – will have to work hard for the win in this right-leaning county.
It’s an off-year election in Indiana with no presidential or
gubernatorial candidates; only state clerical offices and a congressional race are at the top of the ballot, and most countywide seats are uncontested.
Republican U.S. Rep. Luke Messer is being challenged by Democrat Susan Hall Heitzman and Libertarian Eric Miller, but the district is strongly Republican.
Longtime Republican state Rep. Bob Cherry is being challenged by Greenfield Libertarian Ben Parker. The only races at the county level are for the county council. No Democrats or minor party candidates signed up for the top seats of judge, commissioner, sheriff or prosecutor, meaning the primary election named the victors.
“There’s no stars on the ticket, no headliners. But it’s still important to put competent officeholders in,” said Joe Skvarenina, political director of the Hancock County Republican Party. “This is a task that people who believe in democracy have to do. (But) I think voter turnout will be low.”
Skvarenina, also Hancock County historian, said over the last 25 years, the Republican Party has been getting stronger locally to where now, the party dominates.
“Hancock County is not a two-party system,” Skvarenina said. “Most of our elections are fought out in the primary.”
Still, even this year’s primary election turnout was low. Just over 18 percent of registered voters went to the polls, and that was when there were interesting local races for sheriff, prosecutor and commissioner.
“It does kind of worry me because the spring was such a light turnout,” said Janice Silvey, chairwoman of the GOP. “The numbers were down then, and they did have some choices then. What’s that going to do for the fall? I don’t know if it’s people just don’t have an interest anymore or if they get too busy and don’t think about it.”
It’s dangerous for Republicans to think they’ve got this election in the bag, Silvey said. She hopes the party can encourage the Republican faithful to head to the polls, even if they aren’t many choices this year.
“I’m sure there are people that think, ‘Hey, they’ve got it made. I don’t need to do anything,’” Silvey said. “That’s what gets someone in trouble.”
Still, it will require momentum and money for a Democrat to win here, Gard said. Democrats running for county council are Earl Smith, Michael Tucker and Mike Merlau, challenging Republican incumbents John Jessup, Jim Shelby and Bill Bolander for district seats. There are also Democrats running for seats in Blue River, Buck Creek and Vernon townships.
And while there are races for the seats of state auditor, treasurer and secretary of state, those rarely draw interest from the general public, Skvarenina said.
This could be the slowest general election of the last decade. Comparing the same election cycle to 2010, 2006 and 2002, this year there are fewer races at the top of the ballot. Four years ago, there were races for sheriff, prosecutor, county commissioner and U.S. senator, and turnout was 44 percent. 2006 made for an interesting election year, when the so-called “Libercrats” ran for county council because Libertarians missed a deadline to get on the ballot and ran as Democrats.
The election remotely comparable to this year’s was in 2002, but even then, there were races for judge, county commissioner and state representative. Turnout then was 40 percent.
Phil Hunt, chairman of the Hancock County Democratic Party, said unless there’s a local scandal or controversy in the next two months, voter turnout will likely be low. What that means for the Democrats, he says, is hard to tell.
“It depends on how they campaign,” he said. “If they get the right people out on a low turnout, it could be beneficial. But that could work both ways.”
Both Hunt and Libertarian Party Chairman Andrew Smith hope people don’t vote straight-ticket. Checking the “R” box to ensure all Republican candidates are chosen doesn’t give their candidates a chance.
“I just hope people turn out and vote for the local candidates,” Hunt said. “Hopefully vote for the person, not just the straight ticket. We’ve got some good people running. I hope people consider that.”
In addition to the state representative race, Libertarians are on the ballot for state treasurer, auditor and secretary of state. The SOS office is particularly important to the state party: per state law, if 2 percent of the vote is earned for the Libertarian, it secures the party will have access to placing names on ballots for the next four years.
Smith said even if people lean Libertarian, many will vote for a major party. Smith hopes the party can continue to add more Libertarians to the ballot to give people who stand for limited government a choice.
“I’ve had people who said, ‘I’m not going to vote for the incumbents this year,’” Smith said. “Good, because we’re not the incumbents.”
While Nick Gulling is used to hearing chatter this time of year about the election, it’s been quiet. Gulling, the former Republican sheriff, said a lot of people will just sit this election out.
“That’s one of the reasons why the Republican Party needs to maybe do a little more as far as encouraging people to vote,” Gulling said. “It doesn’t seem to be a topic of conversation at restaurants and things when you meet people in the morning. Everyone is talking about something else. Maybe after the holiday, there’ll be some (campaigning), but there’s not a lot of incentive to do a lot.”
2014 GENERAL ELECTION CANDIDATES
U.S. representative, district 6: Susan Hall Heitzman, D; Luke Messer*, R; Eric Miller, L
Treasurer of state: Mike Boland, D; Michael L. (Mike) Jasper, L; Kelly Mitchell, R
Auditor of state: Michael A. Claytor, D; Suzanne Crouch*, R; John Schick, L
Secretary of state: Connie Lawson*, R; Karl Tatgenhorst, L; Elizabeth “Beth” White, D
State representative, district 88: Brian C. Bosma*, R
State representative, district 53: Robert W. Cherry*, R; Ben Parker, L
State representative, district 57: Sean Eberhart*, R
Hancock County Superior Court 1 judge: Terry K. Snow*, R
Hancock County Superior Court 2 judge: Dan E. Marshall*, R
Hancock County prosecutor: Brent E. Eaton, R
Hancock County sheriff: Michael G. Shepherd*, R
Hancock County recorder: Debra A. Carnes*, R
Hancock County clerk: Marcia Moore*, R
Hancock County assessor: Mary A. Noe*, R
Hancock County auditor: Robin Lowder*, R
Hancock County surveyor: Susan A. Bodkin*, R
Hancock County commissioner, district 2: Marc Huber, R
Hancock County Council, district 1: John Jessup*, R; Earl R. Smith, D
Hancock County Council, district 2: Thomas E. Roney*, R
Hancock County Council, district 3: James Shelby*, R; Michael Tucker, D
Hancock County Council, district 4: William Bolander*, R; Michael G. Merlau, D
Fortville Town Council, at-large: William Hiday*, R
Fortville Town Council, district 2: Robert Holland*, R
McCordsville Town Council, at-large (two open seats): Maxwell A. (Max) Meise*, R; Barry Wood*, R
Blue River Township trustee: Daniel R. Engleking, R
Blue River Township board: Paul E. Cooper, R; Diane Cook, R; Matthew Matlock, D; John Priore, R
Brandywine Township trustee: Sandra S. Matthias, R
Brandywine Township board: Kevin W. Bates, R; Marc Hill, R; Craig Moore, R
Brown Township trustee: Katharina Katie Lewman*, R
Brown Township board: Kyle Hart*, R; Denny W. Oakes, R; Mark Grass*, R
Buck Creek Township trustee: Melvin Branson*, R; Donald B. Waymire, D
Buck Creek Township board: John F. Forcum, R; Erin Harsin-Jordan, R; Gene P. Springer*, R
Center Township trustee: Ronald D. Horning*, R
Center Township board: Fred Dunlevy, R; Steven B. Leonard*, R; Guy Titus*, R
Green Township trustee: Lisa Mohr, R
Green Township board: Stephanie Jones*, R; Todd Stephenson, R; Ronald D. Stamps, R
Jackson Township trustee: Robert W. McDaniel*, R
Jackson Township board: Judith McClarnon Brown*, D; Robert Engleking*, R; Keith A. Wilson*, R
Sugar Creek Township trustee: Robert E. Boyer*, R
Sugar Creek Township board: Matthew T. Holland, R; Douglas A. Duggar, R; Ron Sanders*, R
Vernon Township trustee: James M. Nolte*, R; Brandon Perry, D
Vernon Township board: Marybeth Sears, R; Gary P. Sharett, R; Andrew D. Smith, R; Danielle Patterson, D
Southern Hancock school board, district 3: Craig S. Wagoner Sr.*, Gayle L. Beebe
Southern Hancock school board, district 5: Brian S. McKinney*
Greenfield-Central school board, district 2: Steve Menser*
Greenfield-Central school board, district 3: Retta M. Livengood*
Eastern Hancock school board, district 1: Thomas W. Younts*, Tamara S. Settergren
Eastern Hancock school board, at-large: Michael S. Lewis*
Mt. Vernon school board, at-large (two open seats): Shannon J. Walls, Kellie L. Freeman
Bold denotes contested race
Source: Hancock County