ELKHART — Only a little over a quarter of registered voters took part in the Tuesday municipal election in Elkhart County, not an impressive turnout but higher than the 21 percent of registered voters who participated in the 2015 contest.
Over 38,600 registered voters did not vote, and early voting accounted for about 21 percent of the vote this election, officials said Tuesday night.
At North Side Gymnasium in Elkhart, Republican poll supervisor Steve Gruber said voters had come in at a steady pace Tuesday.
“I wouldn’t say it’s been crazy,” he said. “We had eight people in line at 6 a.m.”
By 3:30 p.m., Gruber said, there had been 560 voters at the gymnasium.
County Clerk Christopher Anderson reported Tuesday morning that polling places were seeing voters come in from the county, not knowing that they could not vote in the municipal elections.
That was true at North Side as well.
“An amazing number of people from the county have come,” Gruber said. “Nobody’s been mad, but we’ve probably had 50 or 60 people ready to vote, and then we’re like ‘No, sorry sir, you’re in the county,’ and they usually are gracious.”
Gruber suggested that perhaps some county residents who could vote in the May school referendum took that to mean they would be eligible in this election as well.
One of the voters who turned out at North Side was Lisa Osborne. Though most voters ignore municipal elections, Osborne said she always makes sure her voice is heard.
“Because we have the power to put people in office that we think can do the best,” she said. “It affects almost every aspect of the community.”
Over at Tolson Center, polling supervisor Darrin Wilcox said voter turnout had been steady since opening at 6 a.m. He said there hadn’t been any glitches with the machines. The only issue was the arrival of people who lived outside city limits.
As of 5 p.m., 475 people had voted at the community center.
One voter, Andrew Stout, who’s been an Elkhart resident since 1966, said he votes every election as a way to fight for the change he wants to see. He said he was most looking forward to the mayoral race and expressed his support for Democratic candidate Rod Roberson.
“I think Rod knows what this area needs,” he said. “I’m not saying the other candidate doesn’t, but I think Rod will have your best interest at heart because he’s been there and done that.”
In Goshen, the situation wasn’t much different.
Pollworker Beverly Miller at the Elkhart County Public Services Building said county residents “want to be able to vote for mayor and they can’t.”
“We’ve had numerous people from the county that have come in to try to vote that can’t because it’s a city election,” said pollworker Dan Hulse.
He said about a third of the people who came in were from the county and unable to vote.
Many voters, Anderson said, were confused because contested races were in Goshen, Elkhart, Millersburg and Bristol, but only those living within those city or town limits were eligible to vote.
Absentee voting exceeded predictions: over 3,000 voters turned in their ballots early.
At the Salvation Army vote center in Goshen, with about 10 minutes until polls closed, poll worker Ann Wroblewski was checking the IDs of a handful of latecomers.
She said a little over 500 people had cast votes there Tuesday, which was to be expected in a municipal-only election with several uncontested races locally. With more races and more people able to cast ballots, she expects more people to show up during the general election in 2020.
“Next year will be crazy,” she said.
Wroblewski and the five other poll workers had been there since 5 a.m., and would likely be there another hour or so putting the machines away after locking the doors. The machines were new hybrid vote counters with touchscreens and paper ballots, which were first used during the primary election in May.
They were a little unfamiliar to some voters.
“A lot of these people didn’t vote in the primary,” she said. “And you’ll always have people who are computer-intimidated.”
But fellow poll worker Bob Schrameyer said many voters appreciated that the new counters leave a paper trail that can be re-examined if needed. He was helping people insert their ballots in another machine at the end of the process.
“These machines are definitely the best thing that’s been done in years,” he said.
Staff reporters Dani Messick, Blair Yankey, Jordan Fouts and Rasmus Jorgensen contributed to this report.