County’s voting rate worst in state

Here is a dubious achievement: Johnson County had the lowest voter turnout in the state in the fall election.

You may have had to wait in line for a half-hour to cast your ballot in November, but Johnson County’s turnout of 23.9 percent was the worst among the state’s 92 counties.

Marion County was the next-lowest at 24.7 percent turnout. The fall turnout was higher than expected and caught election officials off guard after only 9 percent of voters cast ballots in the May primary, which ranked in the bottom 10 for turnout.

But no county offices were contested on the ballot, and residents had only a handful of school board races to decide in the fall, which didn’t generate much interest with voters, Johnson County Clerk Sue Anne Misiniec said.

The low turnout title is one Misiniec hopes the county doesn’t retain.

“That’s not good. It’s sad. We need to somehow educate these folks about the vote centers and voting,” Misiniec said.

Since the election, Misiniec has continued to hear from residents who are confused about early voting and where they can vote on Election Day.

The county changed to vote centers in 2012, which means

voters can cast ballots at any polling places instead of at a

specifically assigned location near their home.

Because there are fewer polling sites open on Election Day, the county has offered more locations and hours for people to vote early, which helps reduce lines.

But this fall, Misiniec found that many voters still didn’t know where to vote early, didn’t know they could vote at any polling site and still weren’t sure where to vote, evidenced by multiple people trying to vote at the closed Johnson County Courthouse.

“We’ll work on this further. I’ve been talking to people here about what can we do different. Some of those folks don’t vote regularly or they would have known,” Misiniec said.

Confusion over vote centers might have prevented some people from getting to the polls, but Misiniec thinks the low turnout was mostly attributed to an uninspiring lineup of races. None of the county races for positions such as commissioner, county council or sheriff were opposed, and the few school board races didn’t present candidates who had vastly different or outspoken ideas about the schools, Misiniec said.

“I don’t like confrontation, but we need a little of that sparring to bring people out to vote. They have to have a reason to vote; and when there is no contest, there is no interest,” she said.

Next year’s municipal elections might get more people to the polls, since some races for city council seats and offices in Greenwood and Franklin already are opposed for the May primary. Then a huge turnout is expected for the next presidential election in 2016, as President Barack Obama is barred from seeking a third term.

The county’s turnout also could be affected by a large number of inactive voters, which inflates the total of registrations. The state is working to clean up the voter registration rolls in counties by eliminating people who have died or moved to a different county or state. Eight of the 10 counties with the lowest turnout in the fall election are among the most populous counties in the state, which have higher percentages of inactive voters, according to Valerie Kroeger, a spokeswoman for the Indiana Secretary of State’s Office.

About 15 percent of the county’s 99,000 registered voters are on that inactive list. If those people don’t confirm their address or update their registrations by 2017, their registrations will be deleted.

By the numbers

Johnson County had the lowest voter turnout in the state in the fall election. Here’s the 10 counties with the lowest turnouts this fall:

1. Johnson County: 23.9 percent

2. Marion County: 24.7 percent

3. Miami County: 25.3 percent

4. Monroe County: 25.8 percent

5. Vanderburgh County: 26 percent

6. Lake County: 26.7 percent

7. Wayne County: 26.8 percent

8. Elkhart County: 27.2 percent

9. Delaware County: 27.2 percent

10. Putnam County: 27.4 percent