Uncontested races to remain on municipal ballots in Johnson County

Though three communities in Johnson County don’t have contested races, voters will still be able to cast a ballot in the November municipal election.

The three-member Johnson County Election Board unanimously voted Wednesday to hold elections for Franklin, New Whiteland and Trafalgar. The vote came after the election board received requests from the clerk-treasurers of the three municipalities asking if they could not hold elections, citing uncontested races on the ballots and cost-savings for voters.

The decision to not hold elections is not at the discretion of each town but rather the election board, said Trena McLaughlin, county clerk and board member. It would require a unanimous vote by the election board, she said.

If elections were not held in the three municipalities, total savings would have been nearly $4,000 — including the closing of vote centers in Franklin and Trafalgar. For elections, the costs are divided among all the cities and towns, and are determined by the number of poll workers, how much the county needs to pay its election vendor and the number of voters per municipality, McLaughlin said.

Officials would also have needed to amend the county’s vote center plan, which would then have to be presented to the Indiana Election Division. Voting machines would also have to be reprogrammed to remove the Franklin, Trafalgar and New Whiteland ballots, she said.

“There was going to be a cost to ask to have those reprogrammed, which we would put on the cities and towns,” she said. “But yesterday, after talking with our election vendor, they said that they would not charge to reprogram our voting machines for this election, so that still will be savings to the city or town.”

While the Republican and Democratic representatives on the board were in favor of saving taxpayer money, they were concerned about the precedent it could set to not hold elections for the uncontested races in the three municipalities.

Both Beth Boyce, a proxy for GOP representative Doug Lechner, and Kevin Service, the Democratic representative, said they favored continuing to have ballots for Franklin, New Whiteland and Trafalgar. Boyce, who is also the chairperson for the county GOP, said everyone deserves to cast a ballot.

“I do understand, obviously, when people show up to vote and there aren’t contested races, people have questions about that,” Boyce said. “But to me, residents of all of our municipalities deserve a ballot, and they deserve a chance to come and to exercise that right.”

In terms of cost savings, many efforts have been taken already to try to add savings for cities and towns, she said. Additionally, cities and towns have already budgeted to have elections for this year, so they are prepared to bear the costs, Boyce said.

Service and Boyce also said the discussion for not holding elections in the three areas should have happened months ago.

“It’s a great discussion. I just think this conversation should have happened months ago, not in September after we already have prepared a ballot and we’re halfway down this road here,” Boyce said.

Contacting voters about the changes would have also been an issue. At this point, there’s no way officials would be able to contact all voters to let them know they don’t have to go Trafalgar or Franklin because they have no one to vote for, McLaughlin said.

This was a concern for Service as well.

“That was one of my biggest concerns, that people are going to show up and say, ‘Oh. What happened?” he said.