5 things to look for in Monroe County elections

Herald Times: Voters have a number of choices to make when they go to the voting booth in November.

Voters have a number of choices to make when they go to the voting booth in November.

And while high-profile races such as those for president and U.S. Senate seats are important, there are a number of local county races on the ballot as well. Here are a few things voters can expect this year as they prepare to go to the polls for this fall's general election:

Changes to straight-party ticket voting

Voters planning to vote a straight-party ticket in the upcoming election will notice some changes to the process.

Earlier this year, the Legislature passed a bill, which Gov. Mike Pence later signed, that decoupled races requiring voters to select more than one candidate from the straight-party ticket. That decision first affects voting in November. The intent of the law change was to fix a problem of overvoting.

Monroe County Election Supervisor Laura Dahncke said to educate voters about the change, election officials have included easy to read instructions both on ballots and on cards at every voting booth outlining the changes.

“It is not just one step; there is an additional step, and we’ve spelled that out for them,” Dahncke said.

Races that will be affected by this include the county council at-large race, which have four candidates competing for three seats. Dahncke said if voters do not individually mark their choice of candidates in those races when voting straight-party ticket, no votes will be recorded in that race.

Democratic Party Chariman Mark Fraley said party volunteers also have been educating voters about the change. He added the party's slogan to get the message across to Democratic voters is "Vote D plus 3’."

MCCSC referendum question on the ballot

Whether to continue a higher tax rate to help fund the Monroe County Community School Corp. is a decision voters will have to make this November.

Six years ago, Monroe County taxpayers voted "yes" on a referendum that generates additional money each year for the school corporation. With that funding set to end this year, school officials brought the question back to voters.

Lynn Coyne, a co-chairperson on the Yes for MCCSC Committee, said awareness about the referendum going into the upcoming election cycle is crucial to securing a "yes" vote.

Since the referendum question is at the end of the ballot, Coyne said it will be important that voters look for the question when they fill out their ballot.

The property tax rate sought in the referendum will be lower than that approved in 2010 — 11.5 cents per $100 assessed valuation compared to a maximum of 14 cents in 2010. Spending essentially would maintain what’s in place, including current teachers’ salaries and benefits, and fund some new initiatives, including world languages in middle school, performance art for Fairview Elementary School and a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program for Grandview Elementary.

Upcoming candidate forums

Voters will have an opportunity to ask local candidates questions next month.

The League of Women Voters of Bloomington-Monroe County will have several candidate forums at the Monroe County Public Library. Each forum will start at 7 p.m.

Kate Cruikshank, president of the League of Women Voters of Bloomington-Monroe County, said each forum will have an opening statement from each candidate followed by a question and answer period and will close with a final statement from the candidates. She said voters with questions will write them down on index cards to be collected by league volunteers, and candidates will 60 seconds to respond.

The candidate forum dates are as follows:

• County auditor and treasurer (Sept. 20)

• County commissioners (Sept. 22)

• State representative District 61 (Sept. 27)

• County council at-large (Sept. 28)

• MCCSC board (Sept. 29)

Extended early voting

An increase in new voter registrations and absentee/overseas applications have election officials anticipating a high voter turnout for this year’s election.

“We are excited and prepared to handle the volume,” Dahncke said.

According to data from the Indiana Election Division, voter turnout in Monroe is typically higher in a presidential election year. In 2012, voter turnout was 56 percent for Monroe County, and in 2008, it was at 70 percent.

Dahncke said in preparation for a larger voter turnout, the Voter Registration Office has made a few changes to ensure a smooth and efficient voter experience. One change is extending early voting hours from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on two Saturdays, Oct. 29 and Nov. 5, during early voting.

There also will be a satellite location in the Showers Building during the early voting period to accommodate more voters, Dahncke said.

Early voting will be Oct. 12-Nov. 7. Voters can go to Election Central, at 401 W. Seventh St., or starting Oct. 24 the Showers Building on Morton Street to cast their ballots. Early voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. except on Nov. 7, when it will be 8 a.m. to noon.

“The ease of early voting should be reason enough to take advantage of that opportunity,” Dahncke said. “With the 21 days, two convenient locations, and free parking available during early voting there is no reason to not vote this year.”

Lack of incumbents an opportunity for both local parties

A number of county seats up for grabs this election are without an incumbent candidate.

These include county commissioner District 3, treasurer, coroner and circuit court judge court 1, seat 1, races are all without an incumbent. In addition, in offices such as the auditor and surveyor, current officeholders were appointed by party caucus this year.

Monroe County Republican Party Chairman William Ellis said Monroe is a strongly Democratic county, but if there is a year a local Republican candidate has a shot of breaking the Democrats’ grip on local politics, this is it.

“We are going to fight for every vote,” he said.

Ellis said he hopes voters understand that party loyalty is not necessarily best for Monroe County. He added Monroe County has had a number of qualified elected officials in office, but that is not the issue with county government.

“It is not qualifications we are lacking; it is ethics,” Ellis said, referencing reports of county-issue credit cards being used for personal purchases under two Democratic auditors.

Fraley said he is aware Republicans would challenge local Democrats on those departments that have come under scrutiny, but he is still confident that the Democratic candidates are what is best for Monroe County and would work hard to re-elect a Democrat to those county offices.

As for the vacant seats, Fraley said this gives the party a chance to have new faces take over positions. He added the party likes to have new people come in and provide renewed energy and fresh ideas. He said a strong combination of veteran public servant and new energetic officials will help the county continue to grow.

“We are a party that is really working to continue the progress of good, competent and fair governance that we have been committed to for many years,” Fraley said.