election

Across the state, political candidates remain locked in campaign battles ahead of Election Day, and in Howard County voters are turning out to the polls in historically unprecedented levels for absentee voting.

Voter turnout rates this year crushed the rates experienced locally during the last midterm election. So far nearly three times as many local voters have cast absentee ballots during early voting than they did during the 2014 midterm election, and both local parties remain hopeful that those votes are in support of their candidates.

From Sept. 1 through Oct. 24 in 2014, the Howard County Clerk’s Office accepted 1,187 absentee votes. Since then, in 2016, Howard County launched its new vote center system, and voters are responding to that system at great rates. During the same period this year, 4,252 absentee ballots were accepted by the clerk’s office, more than tripling the early voter turnout from 2014.

That rate nearly puts Howard County’s early voter turnout on par with presidential election years, which typically draw more enthusiasm from the voting populace.

Comparatively, during the same early voting time frame from the 2016 presidential election, 4,853 absentee ballots were accepted in Howard County.

Clerk Kim Wilson attributed the increase to the charged political climate of the day, which she believes has driven citizens to the polls.

“It’s the climate. It’s the political climate,” said Wilson. “That’s what drives people to vote. People were apathetic for a long time, and I think they’ve come to realize how important this is.”

Of course it’s hard to say how this increased voter turnout will impact election outcomes.

The chairs of both local parties are optimistic as the high stakes Indiana Senate race remains in the national eye, with incumbent Democrat Sen. Joe Donnelly and his opposition, Republican Mike Braun, seeking a victory that could help tip the balance of power in the Senate.

Jamie Bolser, the chair of the Howard County Republican Party, didn’t attribute the high voter turnout to only voter enthusiasm. She said it could be attributed partly to the voters growing accustomed to the new vote center system. Regardless, she said higher voter participation was a win for the country as a whole.

“I think it bodes well for our country when more people come out to vote,” said Bolser. “And I think that’s what matters. I think we’re a country based on the process of people coming out to vote. I think it bodes well for our county, our state, and our country when more people come out and cast their vote, when more people are able to do so because of the availability of it. I think it bodes well for the entire process.”

But voter enthusiasm, she maintained, played a role as well. With President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence making campaign stops in Indiana in support of Braun, she said Republican voters are likely to be energized into taking to the polls. She also listed the recent battle in Washington D.C. over the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh as another factor in the local turnout.

“I think that has people excited,” said Bolser. “I do think the Supreme Court justice nominee and that entire process has people wanting to voice their opinion, and this is where they have that. When they voice it otherwise it’s really not making a difference, but at the ballot box it absolutely makes a difference regardless of what their vote is.”

Republicans aren’t the only ones hopeful with an increased voter turnout, though.

Howard County Democrat Party Chair Kathy Skiles said voters likely to vote for her party’s candidates are turning out as well.

From the congressional race between Democrat Tobi Beck and Republican Jim Baird to the Senate and local races, Skiles said enthusiasm is high.

“We’ve been campaigning for Joe Donnelly, and we’ve been getting nothing but positive feedback quite frankly from Democrats and Republicans,” said Skiles. “I think a lot of this early voting is Democrats.”

And Skiles said disappointment and discontent with Trump remains a driving force for left-leaning voters.

“Normally Republicans vote more than what the Democrats do,” said Skiles. “For many reasons Democrats are out voting, and they’re making their votes count early. Every time Donald Trump picks up his phone and is on Twitter, we get more people out voting. So we’re really excited, and we think we’re going to get some big wins in the Democratic Party.”

There’s still plenty of time to vote early in Howard County up until Election Day on Nov. 6.

Prior to then, early votes can be cast in multiple locations regardless of where you live in the county. The times and dates for voting vary between each vote center. Those centers are:

Oct. 10 – Nov. 2, 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. (Mon-Fri)

Nov. 5, 2018, 8 a.m. - 12 p.m.

Howard County Government Center, 120 E. Mulberry St., Kokomo

Oct. 30 – Nov. 4, 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.

Indiana Wesleyan, 1916 E. Markland Ave., Kokomo

Northwestern School, 4223 W. County Road 350 N., Kokomo

UAW Local 685, 929 E. Hoffer St., Kokomo

Oct. 30 – Nov. 4, 12 p.m. - 7 p.m.

Carver Community Center, 1030 N. Purdum St., Kokomo

Eastern Performing Arts Center, 421 S. Harrison St., Greentown

Oakbrook Church, 3409 S. 200 W., Kokomo

Russiaville Lions Club, 555 N. Liberty St., Russiaville

Titan Annex, 3794 E. 300 S., Kokomo

On Election Day, Nov. 6, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., voters can visit all of the following:

Carver Community Center, 1030 N. Purdum St., Kokomo

Eastern Performing Arts Center, 421 S. Harrison St., Greentown

First Assembly of God Church, 1520 N. Apperson Way, Kokomo

Good Shepherd Church, 121 Sante Fe Blvd., Kokomo

Indiana Wesleyan, 1916 E. Markland Ave., Kokomo

Kokomo High School South Campus, 2501 S. Berkley Road, Kokomo

Maple Crest School, 300 W. Lincoln Road, Kokomo

Northwestern School, 4223 W. County Road 350 N., Kokomo

Oakbrook Church, 3409 S. 200 W., Kokomo

Russiaville Lions Club, 555 N. Liberty St., Russiaville

Senior Citizen Center, 721 W. Superior St., Kokomo

South Library, 1755 E. Center Road, Kokomo

Titan Annex, 3794 E. 300 S., Kokomo

UAW Local 685, 929 E. Hoffer St.