Indiana voters are deciding Tuesday who will lead their cities for the next four years, providing an early barometer of their mood heading into a presidential election year.
The state's two biggest cities could elect their first female mayors as a Democrat in Indianapolis and a Republican in Fort Wayne try to unseat first-term mayors.
In Indianapolis, Melina Kennedy is challenging Republican Mayor Greg Ballard, a surprise winner four years ago. Kennedy is a former deputy mayor in Indianapolis and is trying to become just the second Democrat to lead the state's biggest city since 1967. The other was her former boss, Bart Peterson, who was seeking a third term when Ballard beat him.
Voter turnout in the city Tuesday morning was “very steady,” Marion County Clerk Beth White told IBJ.
Municipal elections typically draw the least amount of voters, said White, who hopes this year’s turnout will be higher than the 27 percent of registered voters who went to the polls in 2007.
“That was pretty darn abysmal,” she said. “I think we’ll do better than that.”
White reported few problems at polling sites across the county Tuesday morning. Of 316 polling locations in 590 precincts, just three did not open on time at 6 a.m. due to late inspectors. Voters were casting ballots at the three locations within the hour, White said.
“It’s three too many, but with 590 precincts, we feel pretty good,” she said. “It’s actually better than we sometimes see.”
Election Day in Indianapolis was not without a bit of controversy, however. Marion County Republicans charged Democrats with “trying to steal the election” by giving voters pre-marked, straight-ticket Democrat ballots.
White, a Democrat, said one ballot at one polling location has been confiscated after the Marion County Election Board voted unanimously to launch an investigation, though she thinks the ballot may have been circulated by mistake.
“No one else has made any allegations about this,” she said. “It’s absolutely isolated.”
Kyle Walker, chairman of the Marion County Republican Party, said Tuesday morning that only one suspicious ballot had been found. Still, he said, others could exist.
“We sounded the alarm so residents would be diligent in looking over their ballot when they receive it,” he said. “We’ll never really know how widespread that issue is.”
The election got off to fast start even before polls opened Tuesday. More than 18,750 absentee ballots had already been received in Marion County as of Monday. That's up from 10,600 in total in 2007. Marion County has 603,875 registered voters.
Besides the race for mayor, Indianapolis residents also will be voting for City-County Council candidates. All at-large and district seats are up for election.
Voters in Beech Grove, Lawrence and Southport will be electing a mayor, clerk-treasurer and council.
In Fort Wayne, a close race is expected between Republican Paula Hughes, a former Allen County Council member, and incumbent Tom Henry. Although the city leans Republican, it has had a Democratic mayor since 1999.
Political observers say the key in Indianapolis and Fort Wayne could be which party does the best job of getting out the vote.
South Bend and Evansville also will have new mayors as incumbents decided not to seek another term.
In South Bend, Pete Buttigieg, the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for state treasurer last year, is heavily favored to defeat Republican Wayne Curry in the heavily Democratic city. The winner will replace Democrat Steve Luecke, who has been mayor since 1997.
The Evansville race has Republican Vanderburgh County commissioner Lloyd Winnecke facing Democratic county treasurer Rick Davis. Some prominent Democrats have endorsed Winnecke to succeed Democrat Jonathan Weinzapfel, who decided against seeking a third term.
In Gary, former state attorney general Karen Freeman-Wilson is expected to become that city's first female mayor. That northwestern Indiana city hasn't elected a Republican mayor in more than 70 years and Charles Smith Jr. hasn't received more than 23 percent of the vote in two previous tries.
Freeman-Wilson is seeking to replace Democrat Rudy Clay, who didn't seek re-election because of health problems.