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Early voting turnout strong - Clerk: 1-in-5 has already cast ballot in Johnson County

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Center Grove area resident Luke Walker wanted to get voting out of the way this weekend, called ahead and found out there would be a line at the nearest vote center at Mount Pleasant Christian Church.

Walker came prepared, bringing a book, headphones and a smart phone with Internet access. He ended up needing all three to keep busy while standing in a winding line that snaked through rooms and hallways in the church.

He was one of about 800 residents who waited in line more than an hour to vote at Mount Pleasant. Lines were much shorter at the voting sites in Franklin and Trafalgar Saturday, but it was still the busiest day during this year’s record-breaking early voting turnout, deputy clerk Reagan Higdon said.

About one in five registered voters in Johnson County have already cast their ballots, and the county’s top election official is expecting a big turnout on Election Day as well.

A total of 20,380 ballots were cast through the end of Saturday, Higdon said. The early voting turnout had nearly tripled the record set in 2008 of 7,288 absentee ballots cast before Election Day, with early voting continuing through noon today at the courthouse.

The number of early votes cast already exceeds the total number of votes during last year’s municipal general election in Johnson County. About 13,000 residents voted for the mayors of Franklin and Greenwood and other city and town offices last fall.

Diane and Greg Williams voted early for the first time this year, hoping to beat the crowds they expect on Election Day. They were surprised to find about 150 to 200 people waiting in line before them to vote at Mount Pleasant Saturday afternoon.

“I thought we could walk right in,” Diane Williams said.

About 50 people were waiting when the vote center opened and the line continued to grow all day, inspector Tim Whitaker said. He estimated that 400 people cast ballots at Mount Pleasant in the first three hours.

Whitaker frequently walked up and down the line to tell people how long the wait would be, joking that they couldn’t get any lawn work done anyway with the rain and sleet. A few residents decided to leave, saying they would come back after eating or wait until Election Day.

A steady stream of voters came in, and many had strollers or children in muddy soccer uniforms. They checked up on Facebook or sports scores on their smart phones, or read books they had brought along.

Most voters waited only a few minutes at the Johnson County Courthouse in Franklin, but the turnout was steady and brisk all day long, Clerk Sue Anne “Susie” Misiniec said.

Turnout in presidential elections is historically much higher than other elections, and voters seem especially interested this year, Misiniec said.

She predicts a turnout of at least 50 to 60 percent this year and said she wouldn’t be surprised if this year’s turnout exceeded 2008. About 64 percent of voters cast ballots in the last presidential election.

“We really hope we can well exceed 50 percent,” she said. “Voters get a chance to express their opinion, and I’m glad for it. It costs taxpayers just as much if 20,000 people vote as if 50,000 people vote.”

White River Township residents Tony and Stacey Gibbons expected long lines on Election Day, and didn’t want to have to take too much time off of work to vote. They decided instead to vote early Saturday at Mount Pleasant.

“I guarantee you almost everyone in this line is a white-collar worker,” Stacey Gibbons said. “They want to take care of it on a Saturday.”

The Gibbons said they used to have to wait no more than five minutes to vote at their old polling place, before the county began using vote centers this year. But they said they didn’t mind spending more than an hour in line Saturday.

“It’s worth it,” Tony Gibbons said.

Interest in early voting has been higher in Johnson County than across Indiana. About 421,000 residents across the state had voted early by Friday, Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson said.

“People are interested in voting and it’s been steady,” she said. “There have been lines for in-person voting.”

Statewide, the number of early voters is high, but trails behind 2008, Lawson said. About 516,000 early votes were cast at the same point before that year’s presidential election.

Turnout during the 2008 election was record-setting, with 62 percent of voters casting ballots statewide, Lawson said. She said she would like to see 100 percent participation but hopes that turnout at least exceeds the participation in the last presidential election.

Turnout during presidential elections is typically high. In Johnson County, about 56 percent of all registered voters cast ballots in 2000, and about 60 percent voted in 2004.

In the 2008 election, lines wrapped around the Johnson County Courthouse during early voting. Lines wound through Mount Pleasant on Saturday, but waiting times were typically shorter as a result of the county’s switch to vote centers, Misiniec said.

This year, residents had the option of voting at the Johnson County Courthouse in Franklin or at seven satellite vote centers around the county.

Misiniec said vote centers should encourage higher turnout, but residents already have been fired up about the presidential race and other national and state elections this year.

“The 2008 election set a record but I think this year could top that turnout,” she said. “This is the most important election in my lifetime.”

The county has tried to make it as easy as possible for residents to cast ballots, such as by opening the vote centers early and on Saturday, she said.

Thousands of residents have been able to avoid long lines on Election Day by voting early, Misiniec said. She said they’ve typically been able to get in and out of most vote centers within 15 minutes, though lines were longer at Mount Pleasant on Saturday.

Floyd Ford and Shirley Griner waited in line for an hour and 10 minutes Saturday to vote at Mount Pleasant. They were pleased that it wasn’t longer, like it had been in the past.

Ford said he had to wait an hour and forty minutes to vote at White River Township Library the last time.

“It went by quick,” he said.

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