About 500 people are registered to vote in one Greenwood neighborhood, but just nine of them cast a ballot in the primary election.
The area that covers a large mobile home park in Greenwood had the lowest turnout in the county at 1.8 percent.
In 18 precincts, fewer than 5 percent of registered voters in those areas actually voted. The poor showing led to the county’s lowest turnout in the last 25 years — as far back as the paper election records in the county voter registration office go — and possibly ever.
Nine percent of the county’s 98,205 voters cast ballots in the primary election. The lowest turnout before that was in the 2003 municipal primary, when 11 percent of residents in cities and towns voted.
Residents of the county’s massive retirement communities voted. The precinct that includes the Indiana Masonic Home had the highest turnout at 32 percent. The precinct that includes part of the Franklin United Methodist Community had the second-highest turnout at 29 percent.
Several precincts in Greenwood had turnouts of 2 or 3 percent, including areas that contain large apartment complexes near Worthsville Road and Main Street. About two-thirds of the 134 precincts countywide had less than one in 10 people voting.
“It’s your privilege to do, so many people ignore it. And it’s so disheartening,” Johnson County Clerk Susie Misiniec said.
Voters had to decide Republican or Democrat party nominations for just nine contested races, and none of them was drawing much interest, Misiniec said. The Superior Court 4 judge race garnered the most attention, but since both candidates had relevant experience, voters may have skipped voting because they thought either Marla Clark or Joe Villanueva would do a good job if elected, she said.
None of the races for state representatives was contested, no U.S. Senate seat was on the ballot, and no public issues such as same-sex marriage or a tax increase were on the ballot, University of Indianapolis political science professor Maryam Stevenson said. Primaries in nonpresidential years also typically have the lowest turnout, so all the factors combined to create small turnouts in most parts of the state, she said.
Steve Maddox of Franklin forgot the election was coming up and was at work and didn’t have a chance to make it to the polls. He wasn’t invested in any of the races anyway, he said.
“It’s just a primary,” Maddox said. “It didn’t really matter that I didn’t vote.”
Brian Wells of Bargersville saw campaign signs for candidates seeking the Republican nomination for the Superior Court 4 judge seat while driving around the county. But he didn’t hear anything about other races or get any information about when or where to vote. He works on the north side of Indianapolis and forgot about voting until a co-worker said he was leaving to cast a ballot. By the time he got home to Johnson County, polls had closed.
The low number of contested races is the biggest reason that people didn’t feel the need to vote, Misiniec said. Most voters weren’t interested in contested races, such as auditor, recorder or even judge, because those positions don’t make decisions that typically affect their lives. For example, a mayor makes decisions that affect your neighborhood or how the city is spending money and school board members are responsible for running schools their children or grandchildren attend. Unless you buy property, you might never step foot into the recorder’s office.
“It’s not going to touch them every day like getting your trash picked up or your street cleaned,” Misiniec said.
Presidential elections typically have the highest turnout because people are aware of the national race, Franklin College political science professor Randy Smith said. Primaries almost always have lower turnout than fall elections, so an off-year primary is going to have one of the lowest turnouts, he said. If people are concerned about how a particular office or candidate affects their day-to-day life, then they vote, he said.
For example, turnout from young voters spiked in the late 1960s and early 1970s because young people were being drafted into the Vietnam War, Smith said. The federal government also was considering lowering the legal age to drink alcohol, which was of high interest to younger voters.
“If they’re going to send me off to war, I want to vote and drink a beer while I’m doing it,” he said.
The likelihood to vote increases as residents age, earn more money and have more education, Smith said. Several of the precincts with the lowest turnouts contain apartment complexes, mobile homes or starter homes, which typically attract younger residents with lower income, he said. More people are also moving in and out, so a registered voter may have moved since the last election or a new voter may not be invested in the community because they’ve just moved into Johnson County, he said.
Older voters living in the county’s three large retirement communities voted at higher rates, which matches trends for age, Stevenson said. Voters who are 18 to 25 years old usually vote at the lowest rates, she said.
“We see the highest voter turnout among those in the 50 to 65 range, and after that we see above 65, and then it goes down from there,” she said.
Voters who work full time may have trouble getting to the polls on Election Day, but they had plenty of opportunities to vote early, Misiniec said. The county had multiple early voting sites open on the two Saturdays before the election, on Wednesday through Friday the week before, and also on every weekday for three weeks prior to the election at the courthouse.
Using vote centers did not have any effect on the turnout, because voters have plenty of nearby locations to cast ballots, can vote at any of the sites and had several days to vote early, Misiniec said. Although people had to wait in long lines during the 2012 election, that shouldn’t have turned off voters especially since election officials were expecting a much lower turnout, she said.
But vote centers are a new concept for some residents, who are accustomed to going to a precinct polling place in their neighborhood. Franklin resident Deb Shutta went to her old precinct location at the Franklin United Methodist Community and found there was no voting there. Then she had to go to work and meet family after the workday. She wanted to have a say in the contested races but couldn’t make it to polls.
“I went to my regular polling place and then ran out of time. I was disappointed,” she said.