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Few names on fall ballots

August 29, 2011

Adams County Clerk Gayla Reinhart

    Election 2011 in Adams County will be one of the shortest and easiest in history, with only seven city offices in Decatur and Berne to be voted on — and few names facing the voters.
    Due to a state law that went into effect on July 1, the names of all unopposed candidates will not be printed on the ballots, as a way of saving money and streamlining the voting process.
    Since Geneva held elections last year, since the four incumbent officeholders in Monroe are unopposed, and since six of the seven city officials in Decatur and one official in Berne have no opponents, there will only be these races on computerized local ballots on election day, November 8.
    In Decatur, ballots will list just one race as incumbent Democratic city council member-at-large Barb Engle is challenged by Republican newcomer Cameron Collier.
    Berne will have races for mayor and the five city council seats, but no mention of the clerk-treasurer's office, since incumbent Republican Gwen Maller is unopposed.
    The only savings of money here based on the new law, according to Adams County Clerk Gayla Reinhart, whose job includes overseeing and facilitating elections, will be that the early voting and absentee voting period will last just one week (October 31-November 7) instead of two weeks.
    Ballots — with no unopposed names — have already been printed for the Decatur and Berne precincts, says Reinhart.
    The new state law that eliminates the names of all unopposed candidates is not setting well with a number of local officials, according to a recent Associated Press story.
    The AP story quotes the clerk-treasuerer of West Lafayette, Judy Rhodes, as saying, "The idea that persons who are standing before the community for elected office become invisible on the ballot is a very surprising policy decision."
    The mayor of Lafayette, Tony Roswarski, is also displeased because the bill was not discussed openly at the state legislature in early 2011. He told the AP that it would be better to have each locality decide whether to omit the names of unopposed candidates rather than to require such omissions.
    Heather Maddox, Democratic Party chairwoman in Tippecanoe County (where Lafayette and West Lafayette are located), told the Associated Press that the change in election procedure "is going to cause a lot of confusion" for voters who will be looking for the names of people for whom they wish to vote.
    The AP story also said the Morgan County clerk, Peggy Mayfield, who is the legislative liaison for the Indiana Association of County Clerks (IACC), said the final wording of the bill is different than what she and the IACC thought it was going to be. "This is not what we expected, but that's what happened," she said.
    Reinhart said that Mayfield testified at hearings on the proposed bill during the legislative session and that the county clerks were informed of the bill's final wording at an IACC meeting in June.
    Reinhart says there will be an election conference in December, held by the Indiana Election Division, at which time this law will be discussed. She believes there may be a move in the 2012 legislative session to modify the new law.
    Reinhart says the problem with this change in the law is that if the names of officeholders are omitted from ballots, voters may well "assume that there are no races, that the positions are not open."
    The people, she says, must be allowed "to voice their opinion," which, she adds, means the ability to vote for, or not vote for, candidates.
    This change, Reinhart says, could make people "angry" and is a complicating factor in what she says should be a system made as easy for the public as possible.

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