Fewer precincts, early closings, record interest: Indiana primary challenges

Voters go to the polls in Indianapolis, Indiana May 3, 2016. © Chris Bergin
With the Indiana presidential primary set to potentially decide the GOP race, the state is reporting a record turnout of early voters. The increased interest may spell trouble, though, with fewer precincts open in some places, and polls closing at 6:00pm.

Indiana and Hawaii are the only US states were polls close before 7:00pm, leaving working voters little or no time to cast their ballots. In addition, Indiana has no law requiring employers to give their workers time off for voting. Most of the state is in the Eastern time zone, with the exception of six counties in the southwestern corner, around Evansville.

Almost 300,000 early and absentee ballots had been requested statewide, far more than in 2012 or 2008, Angie Nussmeyer of the Indiana Election Division told the Indianapolis Star. There were 183,904 Republican and 109,269 Democratic ballots requested, and the authorities received 286,250 completed ballots by the deadline, according to Nussmeyer. Indiana has an open primary, where unaffiliated voters can request Democratic or Republican ballots.

Early morning voters in Hancock County, east of Indianapolis, faced some delays due to computer trouble.

“We did have a software server update situation," county clerk Marcia Moore told the Star. "On top of that, we think there was some poll worker error, where the poll workers got ahead of themselves and did things in the wrong order.”

Other voting centers were up and running, Moore said. About 4,500 voters had cast their ballots by 10:30am.

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One polling place in Indianapolis opened about 30 minutes late this morning, but the other 599 precincts were doing fine, said Russell Hollis, deputy director of the Marion County clerk’s office.

Police activity resulted in one polling location in South Bend suspending operations for about 45 minutes this morning. Around 8:15am police placed the Riley High School and two other schools on lockdown due to a “suicidal subject at a home nearby,” local media reported. St. Joseph County clerk’s office said that “five voters were turned away during that time,” according to WSJV-TV.

Wells County, in the rural north of Indiana, decided last year to reduce the number of polling locations by two thirds, as a cost-saving measure, Terre Haute TribuneStar reported. Fifteen local precincts were consolidated into five countywide voting centers. Almost 3,000 residents had cast their votes by noon, according to the county clerk.

In Madison County, one voter brought up the fact that Republicans and Democrats were given voting cards of different color at the poll.

“I’m not ashamed how I vote, but it’s a very private issue for some people, and I think somebody should be able to get their ballots without somebody in the room to know how they’re voting,” Christy Darst told the Herald Bulletin.

All party identification cards must be of the same color, the Indiana Election Board told Darst, citing state code 3-10-1-28 – to the chagrin of election officials, who said they’d been giving out pink and green cards “for years and years,” without anyone commenting on it.