2020 Local Primaries: District 60 house, county council now contested in primary, general

gradient for primary cropped-2020-01-02-johnson-hardware-building-IMG_5161A handful of primary candidate declarations were filed this past week, for state-level offices as well as some in Monroe County. 

A candidate from each party was added to the race for the state house District 60 seat, currently held by Peggy Mayfield, a Republican.

Mayfield will be joined in the Republican Party primary by Martinsville school board member Dave Rinehart. On the Democratic Party side of the District 60 equation will be Martinsville High School math teacher Tiffany Grant.

Incumbent Monroe County auditor Cathy Smith and incumbent treasurer Jessica McClellan issued a joint press release on Monday declaring their intention to seek re-election, and later that day filed the paperwork. That means all county seats have at least one person as a declared candidate, except for coroner. Incumbent Democrat coroner Joani Shields has not yet filed any paperwork.

Now on the ballot for a county council at-large seat in the Republican Party primary is retired firefighter James Allen. Four years ago, when at-large county council seats were last elected, only one Republican appeared on the ballot. Based on the assumption that Allen is a Republican Party nominee, he’ll face the winners of the Democratic Party primary, in what is currently a four-way race for three seats.

County Council At-Large Analysis

In the general election, county council at-large seats could be among the closer races across the county, because of a change in state election law that was made four years ago. In 2016, a bill was passed that changed how straight-party votes are applied to at-large races, like those this year for the county council. Starting in 2016, straight-party votes don’t count as a vote for any candidate in an at-large race.

That means voters in the general election have to vote intentionally for each county council candidate for whom they want to cast their ballots.

Did the new law have an impact on the county council race in 2016? Yes, at least if it’s measured in terms of participation by voters in the race.

Voter participation in the  2016 county council race was only about 58 percent of the participation in other races, where straight-party voting applied.

That percentage is based on the 103,374 total votes cast in the county council race. Assuming every voter selected the maximum of three candidates, that works out to 34,458 ballots voted in the county council race, compared to 59,598 ballots voted overall.

In 2016, voters could choose up to three out of four candidates for the at-large county council race. Three Democrats and one Republican appeared on the ballot.

2016 County Council Candidate Votes PCT 
DEM Elizabeth “Lee” Jones 28,527 27.60%
DEM Cheryl Munson 27,535 26.64%
DEM Geoff McKim 24,533 23.73%
REP Hal Turner 22,779 22.04%

The four-way race for the three seats was close: Geoff McKim, who was third among Democrats, was a little under two points ahead of Republican Hal Turner.

But if straight-party voting had applied to the county council race in 2016, it almost certainly would not have changed the outcome. The breakdown of straight-party voters in Monroe County was 60–40 in favor of Democrats.

The 2016 election results offer some evidence that straight-party votes benefit Democrats in Monroe County. In the race for treasurer, Democrat Jessica McClellan won by an 8-point margin. If the straight-party votes are subtracted, that margin shrinks to around 1 point.

But McClellan’s supporters presumably knew their straight-party vote counted for her in that election. So the same election, if it had been held without straight-party voting (and voters knew their straight-party votes wouldn’t count in that race), could have shown a different margin than a 1-point win for McClellan.

2016 Treasurer Candidate Votes PCT 
DEM Jessica McClellan 30,199 54.16%
REP Ann Collins 25,562 45.84%
2016 Straight Party Votes PCT 
DEM 11,604 60.00%
REP 7,294 37.71%
LIB 443 2.29&
2016 Treasurer’s Race w/o Strght Prty Votes PCT 
DEM 18,595 50.44%
REP 18,268 49.56%

Twin house and senate bills in this year’s legislative session proposed to end all straight-party voting in Indiana. Already dead in this year’s short session are HB 1051 and SB 333.

Also dead is SB 81, a bill that would have restored the application of straight-party votes to at-large races.

So in November, voters who want their trip to the polls to mean something for county council at-large races will need to vote for their preferred county councilors one at a time.

The Square Beacon updates new announcements or filings for local candidates on a separate page: 2020 Monroe County Indiana Primaries.  Readers who’d like to receive a daily email around 4 p.m. with an attached spreadsheet of the day’s candidate filings can sign up for the  list at the Election Central building at 7th and Madison streets. An additional resource for candidate filings is Indiana’s Secretary of State’s listing for all candidates statewide.