Civic duty, issues, candidates motivate Vigo's early Election Day voters

May 7—Ruby Cornelous stood outside the Booker T. Washington Community Center on Tuesday morning, just a couple hundred yards from her childhood elementary school building.

The 78-year-old took a break from work to cast a ballot at the vote center inside the facility at 13th Street and College Avenue in Terre Haute.

She votes regularly. "One-hundred percent," Cornelous said, emphatically.

"I don't miss voting, because there's so many people who should be voting," she said. "And if you don't vote, don't complain."

Cornelous also doesn't agree with nonvoters' common excuse that there is a lack of choices in candidates. "The choices are there — you just have to make the choice," she said.

Voter turnout in Vigo County, according to final unofficial numbers from the clerk's office summary, was 13,773 ballots, with registered voters at 69,017 — a turnout of 19.96%.

As of 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, 132 people had cast ballots at the Booker T. Washington vote center.

The flow of voters ranged from slow to steady early Tuesday at a sampling of Vigo County's 18 Election Day vote centers. Voters' motivations varied.

At Booker T. Washington, Nola Knust, 68, and her son Andrew Knust, 35, continued their tradition of voting together, while accompanied by his daughter. Nola was focused on voting for "somebody that's not been in the good ol' boy club," she said.

Nola also prefers candidates that will enact term limits on members of Congress. At the state level, she's looking for elected officials to support state employees, like her son. She voted on a Republican ballot.

The governor's race was important to Andrew Knust, as a state worker. "That's going to be my boss," he said. Six Republicans and just one Democrat were on the parties' primary ballots for the governor's seat, vying to replace term-limited GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb.

Also voting at Booker T. Washington were Amos Strong and his wife Lorraine Strong, both 73. It was important to Lorraine to support Dr. Janie Myers, the Democratic incumbent candidate for Vigo County coroner. For Amos, he focused on voting to protect democracy, as a military veteran.

"Obviously, there are things I'm not crazy about, like democracy being stolen," he said. "I fought for this country. I guess I have to come in here [at the Washington vote center] and fight for it, too."

Mary Beth Mullen, 63, came to the Washington Center as a concerned voter, too.

"I'm worried about our country, and I just wanted to make sure my voice is heard," Mullen said. "I really don't want to see our former president [Donald Trump] get back into office.

"But most important, we all have a vote and we do have a voice, and this [polling place] is where it truly counts," she added. "If we don't use it here, we're wasting our voice."

A new vote center that debuted Tuesday was Hope Community Center just north of Prairieton. Only 15 voters had cast ballots by 8:30 a.m., but the parking lot outside the building on Indiana 63 south of Terre Haute got busier moments later. Two of those arrivals were John Vencel and his wife Terri.

The U.S. presidential race that will boil down in the fall general election to incumbent Democrat President Joe Biden and Trump, the Republican former president, was foremost on the couple's minds.

"I'm just looking for change," Terri Vencel said. "Something's got to give."

While the crowded Indiana governor's race has drawn much attention, the top of the ticket drew John Vencel's attention. "I'm not that much [focused on down-ballot races]; it's mainly presidential," he said.

At the vote center inside the Hulman Memorial Student Union on the Indiana State University campus, 45 people had cast ballots by 10 a.m. Those included 22-year-old ISU senior Ally Hall.

The Louisville, Kentucky, native will graduate with a degree in marketing on Saturday. She's involved in community activities in Terre Haute as a member of the 12 Points Revitalization Board, and supports candidates committed to connect with residents.

Hall backs "people who are involved and are actively out here in the community doing something," she said. "The people that have had more outspoken campaigns have really resonated with me."

Nationally, the Biden-Trump race also matters to Hall, who cast her first presidential ballot four years ago. "I'm very interested in seeing how the big presidential race is going to go," she said. "I have no clue, like all of us, how it's going to turn out."

Shane Crook, a 21-year-old ISU junior from Brownsburg, voted with a provisional ballot Tuesday. He favors "people-centric representatives" and wants candidates who'll help address addictions.

The governor's race particularly motivated Alex Chihara to vote Tuesday at ISU. The 31-year-old university staffer said he typically votes on a Democratic ticket in the primary, but chose a Republican ballot this time. He wanted to vote for gubernatorial candidate Brad Chambers, and hopes the former Indiana secretary of commerce wins the Republican nomination instead of Mike Braun, the U.S. senator who is among the six GOP candidates seeking the governor's job.

"[Braun] is very right-wing, kind of like Trump-MAGA," Chihara said, referring to the former president's "Make America Great Again" movement. "And I don't want to see that."

Chambers, by contrast, has "more traditional conservative values," Chihara said.

The polling places in Indiana remain open until 6 p.m. Tuesday. Each party's victorious nominees move on to the 2024 general election, scheduled for Nov. 5.

The Vigo County Annex was enjoying a steady stream of voters in mid-afternoon.

"We're busy," said Marilyn Dudley, inspector at the Annex. "[Voters have] been positive, upbeat. They've been easy to get along with and cordial. We've had some first-time voters, and it's been a good day."

Ellen Hughes said she had never missed an election regardless of the strength of the candidates. She was bullish on one in particular — Democratic incumbent coroner Janie Myers.

"I would come every year no matter what," she said, adding that she was disheartened by the relatively light turnout.

"It's a shame, and I keep asking people, 'Did you vote today?' And they say, 'Oh not yet,'" Hughes said. "And I say, 'Did you check' and they always say, 'What is it?' So yes, it's very disappointing."

Jim Hellmann also had not missed an election, but offered a suggestion explaining deflated turnout.

"Maybe it's the choice of candidates that they have," he said.

Nonetheless, he added, "I'll be back in November."

Andrea Summerlot said she has been voting "since I was 21 and that's a lot time ago. I've never missed an election. I enjoyed it."

She cast ballots for Donald Trump for President and Mike Braun for governor, and said that more local candidates didn't inspire her as much.

"We've got to clean up government," Summerlot said.

The Vigo County Public Library also welcomed voters visiting at a steady pace.

"It's important to vote," said Shannon Peperak. "My mom always said, 'That is your right — you exercise it.'"

She credited the poll workers with helping her breeze through her civic duty.

"They explained it very well, and the machines are very nice and modern," Peperak said. "They function well."

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or David Kronke of the Tribune-Star also contributed to this report.