The final lineup of local candidates is still not set for the Nov. 8 general election. But after some ballot vacancies got filled over last weekend, Monroe County now has four more contested races.
The four newly contested races are all for positions on the township level of government—either township board or township trustee.
The trustee is the executive. The township board is a three-member governing body, which has seats that are elected on an at-large basis for the geographic area of the township. A key responsibility of township government is to help the less fortunate cover basics like housing, utility bills, food, clothing and medical expenses—subject to eligibility requirements.
On a map, the townships show up as a roughly 4-by-3 grid laid over the county, except that Benton Township, in the northeast corner, reflects the historical merger of two townships. That means Monroe County has 11 townships, not a full dozen.
Benton Township is also where two of the newly contested races have now emerged—after the respective county chairs filled some of the ballot vacancies.
At a caucus last week, Republicans gave county chair Taylor Bryant the authority to put candidates on the general election ballot, if no one registered as a candidate for the position in the party’s primary election.
For Benton Township, Bryant put Josh Dodds on the ballot as candidate for township trustee and Jake Dodds on the ballot as a candidate for township board. The two men are brothers.
That sets up the only contested race for a township trustee position in Monroe County. Republican Josh Dodds will be up against incumbent Democrat Michelle Bright for Benton Township trustee.
Adding Jake Dodds to the mix will mean voters in Benton Township can pick up to three candidates for township board from a pool of four. The four include Dodds and three Democrats: Joe Husk (incumbent), Hans Kelson (incumbent), and Sean McInerney.
That gives the Republicans a shot at retaining their one seat on the township board. Benton Township board incumbent Republican Lynn Stevens was not on the primary ballot. Stevens was injured in a traffic crash early in the year.
It’s the top three vote getters that get a seat on the board. That means to win election to the Benton Township board, Jake Dodds will just need to outpoint any one of the Democrats.
Township board races aren’t susceptible to the impact of straight-ticket voting. That’s because under Indiana election law, straight-ticket votes don’t apply to races like township board seats, where voters choose up to three candidates. Under Indiana law, voters have to make separate choices for each of the three candidates.
In 2018, here’s how tight the Benton Township board race was: Just 32 votes separated the top vote getter (Republican Lynn Stevens) from fourth place. Stevens received 687 votes, Joe Husk 678 votes, Hans Kelson 675 votes, and Sean McInerney 655 votes.
Bryant’s third addition to the ballot creates for the Van Buren Township board race a scenario similar to the one for Benton Township, but with the parties flipped. By adding Theresa Oatman to the Van Buren Township board ballot, that gives Republicans a full complement of three, against one Democrat, incumbent Will Smith. The other two Republicans on the ballot are incumbents Ronnie Pursell and John Wilson.
To win a seat on the board, Smith will need to outpoint just one Republican.
The fourth newly contested race emerged when Monroe County Democratic Party chair David Henry appointed Frank Calabrese as a candidate for Clear Creek Township board. Calabrese will be the lone Democrat on the ballot. To win election to the board, he’ll have to outpoint one of the Republicans: Randy May; Steven Hinds; or Randy Thacker.
Henry’s appointment of Sean Hall as a candidate for Salt Creek Township board did not create a newly contested race. The only other candidate on the ballot in that race is Democrat Joseph Hickman, which means the board will be short a full complement of three.
The ballot for Nov. 8 is not yet set, because Indiana’s election calendar still allows for a candidate to voluntarily withdraw from the ballot—by July 15.