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Historic win was set up last summer

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GREENFIELD — When Crystel Myers takes office as Hancock County coroner on Jan. 1, she will be the first Democrat in about 30 years to hold a countywide seat.

Straight-ticket Republican votes probably affected the outcome of the coroner’s race, but exactly how is hard to tell.

Myers defeated Republicans Dan Devoy and Joe Fortner, who ran as independents. Myers earned 10,120 votes, or 41 percent; Devoy had 8,035 votes; and Fortner had 6,554.

Officially, the Republican Party did not have a candidate in the race: GOP incumbent Tamara Vangundy was forced from office, and the county Republicans did not slate a replacement.

Post-election analysis of the surprising outcome suggests straight-ticket voting played at least a partial role in the result. Because of the way straight-ticket voting works, people who voted Republican would also have to vote separately in the coroner’s race. According to this line of thinking, straight-ticket Republican voters could have actually helped Myers, because they did not vote for one of the independents.

“(Myers) won, because every straight-party ballot cast favored her,” said Michael Adkins, chairman of the Hancock County Democratic Party. “The Democrat (straight-ticket ballots) counted (for Myers); the Republicans didn’t.”

A total of 24,709 Hancock County people voted in the coroner’s race. But 33,071 registered voters cast ballots Tuesday, meaning 8,362 did not vote in the coroner’s race at all.

That figure is similar to the 8,021 people who voted straight-ticket Republican. While it’s impossible to tell if those voters also cast ballots in the coroner’s race, it’s safe to assume many didn’t.

“I’ve heard people since (the election) say, ‘Well, I voted straight ticket so I didn’t have a vote for coroner,” said Janice Silvey, chairwoman of the Hancock County GOP. “But they didn’t know you could go ahead (and vote for an independent candidate separately).”

Silvey said straight-ticket voting probably played into Myers’ win, but she also acknowledges the simple fact that there were two independent candidates on the ballot who split the remaining votes.

A total of 14,589 people voted for the two independents. If all those votes had gone to a single candidate, Myers would have lost by a margin typical of Democrats’ historic futility here.

The seeds for Myers’ win were planted in late August, when the Hancock County Republican Party chose not to slate Devoy or Fortner as the Republican candidate after Vangundy stepped down. Both already had entered the race as independents, and the party chose to stick to its rule that candidates must be Republicans “in good standing.” As independents, Devoy and Fortner did not meet that standard, the thinking went at the time.

County Republicans decided to let voters pick the next coroner.

Silvey acknowledged that Myers also campaigned diligently. And Silvey predicted Republican officeholders will get along with their Democratic counterpart.

“I don’t know why we wouldn’t be able to (get along with Myers),” Silvey said. “She was voted in … she’s going to be working closely with the prosecutor and sheriff. There shouldn’t be any problem.”

Clouding the theory about straight-ticket votes was the fact that Republican straight-ticket ballots were down this year from 2008, indicating some could have decided to split their ticket and vote for Devoy or Fortner.

This year, 8,021 people voted straight-ticket Republican, down more than 2,000 from the last presidential election. In 2008, 10,083 people voted straight-ticket Republican.

Hancock County Clerk Marcia Moore said it’s a general trend that fewer people are voting straight-party. Democratic straight-party votes were down slightly this year as well: 3,234 people voted only for Democrats, compared to 3,850 in 2008.

A bill before the state Legislature this year would have eliminated straight-ticket voting in Indiana, but it did not pass. Local libertarians and Democrats were in favor of the bill. Adkins said it would have encouraged people to look more closely at Democratic candidates for city and county offices.

While Democrats have occasionally been elected to office in Greenfield and in the townships, it’s been about 30 years since a Democrat held a countywide seat. Sarah Wolf, former Democratic state representative, remembers that Erma Roedecker and Wilbur Lantz served as county recorder and on the county council, both in the late 1970s or early 1980s.

Myers said Friday it is just beginning to set in that she won the election, and she’s been getting a lot of congratulatory phone calls from family and friends.

Myers said it’s hard to tell how much straight-ticket Republican voting helped her in the three-way race.

“It wasn’t like I took 90 percent of the county – it was a very fair race between the three of us,” she said.

Most of the county’s Republican officials have been helpful to her so far, Myers said. She feels like she’s under a lot of pressure as the only Democrat in a county seat, and she wonders whether people will be watching her closely to make a mistake.

“But if I do the best I can and put my best foot forward and work with everybody… we can work wonders together,” she said.

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