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Long lines, delays greet voters on election day

November 6, 2012
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Voters in Hancock County's Green Township snake through a cramped polling site in a fire-and-rescue station. (IBJ photo/Perry Reichanadter)

Indiana voters stood in line for up to three hours in some cases Tuesday to cast their ballots in a series of tight, bitter races for the White House on down that Republicans hoped to dominate.

Voting was heavy across the state despite a month of early voting that saw more than 520,000 people vote as of Sunday.

Valerie Kroeger, a spokeswoman for the Indiana secretary of state's office, said significant voting delays were reported in heavily Republican Hamilton County just north of Indianapolis but that voting elsewhere appeared to be going smoothly.

Hamilton County Election Administrator Kathy Richardson said a programming glitch hit voting machines in about half of the county's polling sites and delayed the start of voting by about 20 minutes. However, Richardson attributed the long lines to high interest in the presidential election and a local referendum on whether Fishers should remain a town or become a city.

"We didn't get off to a good start, but when you have two-hour lines and you only had a 20-minute delay, the delay wasn't the problem," Richardson said. "The volume of people who have come to the polls is what's causing the issue."

For some, the wait wasn't worth it.

Part-time retail worker Charlene Shannon, 67, said the line to vote was so long at Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers that some people, including an elderly neighbor who is hypoglycemic and had to go get food, gave up.

"People are leaving and not voting, and that's so unfair," she said, noting that her son waited in line for five minutes to vote in Chicago. "Something is wrong here."

Kroeger said turnout appeared to be heavier than expected but said it would be several days before officials knew how it will compare with 2008, when a hotly contested presidential primary between Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton energized voters throughout the campaign season. Obama narrowly won Indiana's general election that year, giving Democrats their first presidential win in the state since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

Republican Mitt Romney was widely favored to win the 2012 election, and polls showed the GOP's Mike Pence with a solid lead in the race for governor. But Republican hopes of sweeping the top races were in jeopardy with the bitterly contested U.S. Senate fight between Democrat Joe Donnelly and Republican Richard Mourdock. A recent poll had Donnelly leading Mourdock.

Mourdock’s popularity waned after he said in a debate last month: "Even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something God intended to happen.”

Joe Reece, a 34-year-old Indianapolis software salesman, was among about 20 people waiting in line before the polls opened at 6 a.m. at First Meridian Heights Presbyterian Church on the city's north side.

Reece said he voted for Mourdock in the primary and also in the general election and that the tea party-backed candidate's abortion comment didn't affect his vote.

"I think if he could take it back he would. I don't know that he meant to say it the way he did," Reece said.

Reece and other voters said the economy was a more pressing concern.

"I feel like he's got the background and the acumen to be able to help us reverse course quickly," Reese said of Romney, who got his vote.

But many people who voted for Obama said they felt the president needed more than one term to fix the nation's ills.

"No one can correct everything in four years. Especially the economy, it's not going to happen overnight," said Bernadette Hatcher, 42, of Indianapolis, who went to vote after finishing her overnight shift at a warehouse.

Kathy Weddle, 42, of Osceola in northern Indiana, has been out of work since losing her sales job in May. But she said she thought the president's power over the economy was limited.

"The president can't create a job for me," Weddle said. "I don't think who is president is going to make job growth happen. It's going to happen when the economy is better and when there's a position open I could get into."

Indiana voters on Tuesday will also elect fill three open U.S. House seats, 25 state senators and 100 House members, along with the state attorney general and superintendent of public instruction.

Indiana Republications believe they have the momentum to strengthen their presence in the Statehouse and in Congress.

The GOP is hoping to build on their majority in the state House of Representatives, which they retook from Democrats in 2010.

Indiana Republican Party Chairman Eric Holcomb said he's counting on a good showing Tuesday but is still fighting as though Democrats could make gains.

"We want to make sure we don't put the cart in front of the horse," Holcomb said. "I suspect it's going to be a good night for Republicans and a good night for Hoosier taxpayers."

Obama's slim victory over John McCain in 2008 now appears to have been a fluke more than a sea change. Romney appears poised for a potential double-digit victory.

The lack of national attention has played out in early voting, which was down from 2008. The Indiana Secretary of State's Office reported that more than 460,000 people had voted across the state as of Friday, with the heaviest turnouts in urban Marion and Lake counties. That compares with about 516,000 who had voted by the Friday before Election Day in 2008.

In Congressional races, Jackie Walorski and Susan Brooks are seeking to become the first Republican House or Senate members from Indiana in half a century.

For the second straight election, Indiana has three open seats, following the retirement of 30-year U.S. Rep. Dan Burton in the 5th District and decisions by Pence and Donnelly to seek other office. Until 2010, the state had gone nearly five decades with no more than two U.S. House seats open at the same time.

Walorski, who narrowly lost the 2nd District race to Donnelly two years ago, hopes the second time's the charm in the district that state lawmakers redrew to include more Republicans. The former state representative faces Iraq War veteran Brendan Mullen.

Brooks, a former U.S. attorney, is running against state Rep. Scott Reske for Burton's seat in central Indiana. If Walorski or Brooks wins, they would be the first female Republicans from Indiana in Congress since Cecil Harden lost her re-election bid in 1958 after five terms.

Democrats are also fielding two women to challenge incumbents: Tara Nelson is running against Rep. Todd Rokita in the 4th District, and Shelli Yoder faces Todd Young in the 9th District.

One of the more closely watched races involves incumbent Republican Rep. Larry Bucshon, who faces a strong challenge from former Democratic state Rep. Dave Crooks in the southwestern Indiana congressional district known as the "Bloody 8th" for its history of contentious races. The seat has changed hands three times since 1995.

Bucshon first won the seat in the Republican-leaning district in 2010 when incumbent Democratic Rep. Brad Ellsworth vacated it to run for Senate. But Bucshon became more vulnerable this year after Republican state lawmakers redrew congressional lines and included more Democrats in the district.

Republicans were expected to keep a strong edge in the nine-member delegation. Former Republican state Rep. Luke Messer is favored over Democratic Delaware County Council member Bradley Bookout for Pence's seat, and three freshman Republicans—Reps. Marlin Stutzman, Todd Young and Todd Rokita—all were heavily favored to win re-election.

Democratic Rep. Pete Visclosky is heavily favored to win a 15th term against political newcomer Joel Phelps. If he wins, Visclosky would replace Burton as the senior member of Indiana's congressional delegation.

Despite the open seats, Brian Vargus, a longtime political science professor, said this year's Indiana congressional races have been largely silent, with the exception of the races involving Walorski and Bucshon. Most attention has been paid to the Senate, gubernatorial and presidential races.

"The congressional races did not generate, in many parts of the state, much excitement," he said. "The Senate race, especially, sucked all the wind out of all the rest of the campaigns. Nobody is paying attention."

 

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