What The Heck Are Primaries, and Why Should I Care?

Posted on: May 4, 2018, by :

By Amy Foxworthy

You may already know that Indiana’s primary election will take place on Tuesday, May 8th, but you may be unsure of what exactly a primary is or why it matters.  A primary election is an election used either to narrow the field of candidates for a given elective office or to determine the nominees for political parties in advance of a general election.

The majority of Hoosiers do not vote in primary elections occurring in non-presidential election years; i.e. If it’s not time to vote for President, people don’t show up to vote at all.  In 2014, when neither Obama nor our Governor was up for reelection, only 617,156 voters out of 4,571,744 registered Hoosier voters showed up.  That is a pitiful 13% participation rate.  In 2016, a presidential year, our May primary voter turnout was still only 38%.  Considering that general (November) election voter turnout in that hotly-contested year (Trump v. Hillary) was still only 58%, it is baffling to think what it might take to get over 60%.

Primaries are important because that is when you decide who, from each party, will be the candidate to run against the candidate from the opposite party in November for that particular office (Congressman, Mayor, State Representative, Senator, Sheriff, etc).  For example, if you are a Republican, this primary is important because you must choose between 3 Republican U.S. Senate candidates to be the one to take on incumbent Joe Donnelly (D-South Bend) in the November general election.  Indiana currently has one Democrat Senator (Joe Donnelly) and one Republican (Todd Young).  In November, this will either stay the same, or change to Todd Young and either Messer/Braun/Rokita, making both of Indiana’s United States Senators from the Republican Party.  If you are a Democrat, this primary is important because your State Representative or Senator, Sheriff, possibly your Congressman, depending on location, and various other local offices are on the ballot.

What You Need to Know – The Process

Where do I go?  What do I do?  What items do I need to take with me in order to vote?  All of your questions, and more that you never even knew you had, will be answered right here, just for you.

The process of voting can be intimidating to some, if not familiar with the process.  It’s ok that you haven’t voted in a primary before, and it’s not a scary thing!  Allow me to hold your hand through this process and ease all of your fears.

Where Do I Start?

There are 2 websites that make finding all of the information you need very easy to obtain.

If you already know your polling location, and you just want to find out information about the candidates on your ballot, visit this super handy tool released by IndyStar this week.  This site gives you biographical information about each candidate, so it is very helpful if you are not familiar with the people running for office in your area, but would like to know more about them.

  • Enter your address, then hit “Start Ballot.”
  • Select either Democrat or Republican, and hit, “Go to Ballot.”
  • It will start with the U.S. Senate race. Choose 2 candidates to compare in different races and it will pull up side-by-side biographical information for those candidates.
  • Select your preferred candidate based on the biographical information and it will then take you to the next race, where you will repeat, until your ballot is complete.

If you are unsure of your polling place, visit https://indianavoters.in.gov/

  • Scroll down to “voting location.”
  • Enter your name, birth date, address, and county (it gives the option to enter your driver’s license number, but it is not required). Hit submit.
  • A screen will open that shows your current registration status (active or inactive), the name and address of your polling location, and, on the right side of the page, there is a box that says “Who’s on the Ballot?” where you can scroll down and see everyone that you could potentially vote for in your district, both parties, even though you will only choose one ballot—either Democrat or Republican.

OK. I’ve Done My Research and Now I’m at My Polling Location.  So Now What?

Congratulations!  You have successfully found your polling location, researched your candidates, and now you are ready to vote.

When you arrive at the polling location (between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.), you will be inundated by a plethora of political yard signs of all shapes, colors and sizes.  These are last-ditch efforts by the campaigns, hoping you are an uninformed voter and that seeing a name right before you walk into the polls will sway your vote.  You can allow that to work, ignore them, or be an informed voter and do your research before going to the polls so that your mind is already made up when you get there.

You will see campaign volunteers young and old milling about, handing out literature in support of the candidate they like.  They will try to hand you their pamphlets, and you can either take them and say, “Thank you,” or politely decline by saying, “No thank you.”  Some of the more aggressive campaign volunteers may attempt to engage you in conversation about your voting intentions.  You do not have to say anything other than, “thank you,” or, “my mind is made up,” or, “have a nice day.”  You can always take the easiest way out by saying, “He/she already has my vote!” and just keep walking.  This will please the volunteer greatly and get them off of your back.  No one knows who you vote for once you get in that booth, so it’s not as if they are going to know any differently.

Once you enter the polling location, you are not allowed to pass out any campaign-related literature, leave any campaign literature inside of a voting booth, or even wear political t-shirts or buttons endorsing a candidate while indoors.  Keep this in mind if one of those aforementioned volunteers hands you literature on your way in the door.  Throw it away or put it in your pocket once inside the venue.

You’ll approach a table with a volunteer from each political party sitting there, who will ask for your state-issued identification card.  This can be a driver’s license, Military ID, or a regular State of Indiana ID card. Key points about the I.D.:  It has to be government-issued (Driver’s license, State ID card, Military ID), it can NOT be expired, and it has to have your name and photo on it.  The address on your ID does NOT have to match your voting registration address.

Once the poll workers verify your ID, they will point to your name in a book, and you will sign next to it.  You’ll then be asked whether you want a Democrat ballot or a Republican ballot, then both volunteers will initial your ballot and give it to you to take into the booth.  (These are if you receive paper ballots.  Sometimes there are electronic ones) Read the instructions on the ballot, then simply darken in the circles next to the name you’d like to cast your vote for.  When finished, a volunteer will direct you to a machine called a DS200, and it will confirm that your vote was cast.   Finally, get your cool sticker that says, “I voted,” take a photo of it, and post it on Facebook for all of your friends to see.  Voila!  Easy as that, you just let your voice be heard!

An important takeaway is that the makeup of the House and Senate, both at the State and Federal levels, could shift depending on voter turnout in this year’s elections.  It is up to us, the voters, to decide if we are happy with the way things are going, or if we’d like to see things go in a different direction.

Further resources:

Marion County Republican Party 317-635-8881

Marion County Democratic Party (317) 637-3366.

State Democratic Party:  http://www.indems.org/

State Republican Party:  http://indiana.gop/

Marion County Clerk’s Office:  http://www.indy.gov/eGov/county/clerk/election/pages/home.aspx

Ballot guide:  http://c3.thevoterguide.org/v/indy18/build.do

Indiana Secretary of State Election Division:  https://www.in.gov/sos/elections/


Amy Foxworthy is an Indianapolis-based writer concerned with cultural, civil rights, and social justice issues.

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