Board poised for Nov. 7 election, another vote center committee appointment made

In under a half hour on Thursday, Monroe County’s election board got through its regular meeting agenda, which included an update on the early voting totals for the Nov. 7 municipal election.

Through Wednesday 1,703 people have voted early in person at the election operations center at 3rd and Walnut Streets.

According to Monroe County clerk Nicole Browne, another 309 voters have sent in an absentee ballot by mail, with another 184 ballots that have been sent out in response to requests, but not yet returned.

Also on Thursday, election board chair David Henry, who is also chair of the Monroe County Democratic Party, announced his final appointment to a vote center committee—current Bloomington city councilmember Steve Volan. The 20-year councilmember did not prevail in this year’s Democratic Party primary.

That leaves just one slot on the 11-member committee unfilled, which is supposed to be someone with no party affiliation.

According to Monroe County clerk Nicole Browne, who serves on the election board in her capacity as elected county clerk, there are 59,643 eligible voters for this year’s local election.

This year, the local elections include voters who live in the Monroe County Community School Corporation (MCCSC) district, which is most of Monroe County. Voters who live outside of the city of Bloomington will see just one item on their ballots, which is a referendum on an 8.5-cent property tax increase, in order to pay for early childhood education programs.

There’s just one contested race for the 11 city of Bloomington offices—the District 3 city council race. Republican Brett Heinisch is vying against Democrat Hopi Stosberg for the District 3 seat.

For Friday (Nov. 3), early in-person voting hours at the election operations center at 3rd and Walnut Streets are from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. This Saturday (Nov. 4), early voting is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. On Monday, early voting is open from 8 a.m. to noon.

Overall turnout for this year’s election will be hard to gauge, for at least two reasons. First, in the last municipal election year, which was 2019, no elections were held at all, except in two contested Bloomington city council districts. So 2019 has no citywide election numbers to offer. Four years earlier, in 2015, there was no school referendum, which will loop in lots more potential voters this year.

One point of comparison between 2019 and 2023 could be the turnout for the 2019 District 3 Bloomington city council race, which was 968. That was a three-way race between Democrat Ron Smith and two independents, Nick Kappas and Marty Spechler. Smith prevailed.

The usual precinct-based polling locations will be used for the upcoming Nov. 7 municipal elections. The  Indiana Voter Portal offers  one way to check a voter’s assigned location for Election Day.

For future elections, the Monroe County election board wants to consider moving to vote centers, which would be locations where any registered voter in the county could cast a ballot. That’s unlike the current system, where only voters who live in specific precincts can vote at a particular polling site.

In July, the election board established an 11-member committee to make a recommendation about vote centers.

Since then, several of the committee appointments have been made. On Thursday, in making his final appointment to the 11-member vote center committee, Monroe County Democratic Party chair and election board member David Henry described Steve Volan’s advocacy for the voting rights of college students.

Henry also described Volan as “a passionate speaker on neurodivergence in our community, and as someone who speaks on those issues and is aware of those in our community who have spectrum disorder and other challenges.”

After the board established the committee, it set out the membership requirements.  The board assigned three committee appointments apiece to the county chairs of the Democratic Party and Republican Party, and five to the Monroe County clerk, Nicole Browne.

The appointments assigned to the clerk are broken down like this: 3 who are independent of political party; 1 who is a member of the League of Women Voters; and 1 who “represents through lived experience and/or professional expertise with functional or access needs.”

Still to be appointed is one committee member—an appointment by the county clerk of someone who is not affiliated with any political party.

But it’s hoped that the vote center committee can start making arrangements to convene its first meeting

Named to the vote center committee by Browne so far are Hal Turner; Debora (Ralf) Shaw; Daniella Wheelock; and Stacy Kowalczyk.

Henry has named Ilana Stonebraker, Evan Anish Nayee, and, on Thursday, Steve Volan.
Monroe County Republican Party chair Taylor Bryant has named William Ellis, Danny Shields, and herself.

The vote center committee is supposed to produce a plan, as part of the requirements for eventually establishing vote centers.

It’s not expected that vote centers would be adopted in time for the 2024 elections. The adoption of a vote center system requires a unanimous vote of the three-member election board.

Besides Henry and Browne, serving on the board as the Monroe County Republican Party appointee is Judith Benckart.