With a small number of contested races and no large races to drive turnout, voter participation for this year’s municipal general election was expected to be low.
That proved true by the time all ballots were counted.
According to the county clerk’s office, 8,930 people voted in the general election — 11% of all registered eligible voters.
This year’s turnout dipped from 2019, when 16% of eligible voters came to the poll. That election was unique; Center Grove schools had a referendum on the ballot, which drove voting from areas who otherwise wouldn’t be eligible for municipal races.
The highest participation this year was in Greenwood, where three contested races for city council kept a steady stream of people coming to polling places.
“We always want the turnout to be higher, with all of the work that’s put into it — not only for the voter office but for the candidates also,” said Trena McLaughlin, county clerk. “I wish we would have had a higher turnout.”
Prior to the start of early voting in October, McLaughlin anticipated tepid voter turnout. Without many contested local races, nor any national or statewide offices to drive voters to the polls, the election did not appeal to many voters, she said.
Only people who lived within town or city limits were eligible to vote this year, which also helped dampen participation.
A total of 81,038 Johnson County residents who live in municipalities were registered and eligible to vote in Tuesday’s municipal election. Prior to Election Day, 3,154 people cast their vote through in-person early voting or by absentee voting. Another 5,776 came to the polls on Tuesday.
Municipal elections in the past have resulted in mostly low voter turnout. During the 2019 municipal election, only 14,706 people voted out of the 88,413 eligible, according to the voter registration office.
While 11% of people this November and 16% of voters in 2019 cast a ballot, only 9.7% of registered voters took part in the 2015 general election.
Contested races or hot-topic issues such as school referendums can juice those numbers, but this year lacked those, McLaughlin said.
“We had some contested races and several that were not, so that impacted it,” she said.
The results could be seen throughout the county. By mid-afternoon, voter turnout was hovering around 6%, McLaughlin said.
At the Franklin Cultural Arts & Recreation Center, poll inspector Richard Wertz described turnout as a “steady trickle” throughout the day. Franklin had no contested races this November.
Grace Assembly of God’s polling place had been slow all day long as well.
“There just hasn’t been anything to bring people out,” said poll inspector Garnet Whited.
But other places experienced unexpected bumps in participation.
The Clark-Pleasant library had seen about 245 voters come through from the time polls opened at 6 a.m. until around 1:30 p.m. A short line had even formed before voting started, said poll inspector Damien Katt.
Steady voter traffic at the Greenwood Public Library resulted in short lines to cast a ballot most of the morning. As people got off of work until the polls closed at 6 p.m., those lines lengthened, stretching down a hallway and out the library at times.
More than 1,100 people had voted there by 5 p.m., said poll inspector Chris Sifers.
“This site is the center of everything. If you live up by Marion County, you can come down here. If you live south, you can run up to here. We’re kind of that place. We catch all of the people from around here,” he said.
And those who did come out to vote were motivated to exercise their civic duty.
“I always come out to vote,” said Franklin resident Richard Ryker. “The fact that I came out to vote makes a difference in the community.”
With the 2023 election in the rearview, election officials will set their sights on next year, which as a presidential election with numerous federal and state offices up for grabs, promises to garner much more interest.
“We have great poll workers, inspectors and our field techs, so we’re already talking about everything we’ll be able to get ready ahead of time for next year,” McLaughlin said. “We hope that we continue to have all of the great poll workers we have, and we’re going to need a lot more.”
AT A GLANCE
Here is a look at what percent of voters turned out for the last few municipal general elections: