Looking ahead: Boone County sees influx in absentee ballots by mail

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Boone County will plan for an increase in absentee ballots by mail ahead of the general election, but Boone County Clerk Jessica Fouts estimates the county will receive fewer than it did during the May primary, when the state was still under a lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

An absentee ballot, which is completed when a voter delivers their ballot to the county election board by mail, email, fax or in-person delivery, grants a voter the ability to vote in the Nov. 3 general election without doing so in person. Those who plan to submit an absentee ballot are instructed to do so at least 12 days before the election, by Oct. 22.

In less than a week, Fouts said her office received more than 4,000 applications  by mail, but she doesn’t expect the county to receive more during the general election than the 10,000 absentee ballots by mail it received in the primary. The county had mailed 5,271 absentee ballots as of Sept. 24, according to Fouts.

Fouts said her office has hired two part-time employees to help process the ballots. On Oct. 6, when in-person voting and mail-out ballots begin, an additional four employees will be hired.

In the event the county receives as many, if not more, absentee ballots by mail, Fouts said her office will have three times as many people ready to count and sort them, and they will be assisted by two laptops and two scanners, something she hopes will facilitate quicker results.

“We’ve been working on preparing to do mail in since the end of August,” Fouts said. “People don’t realize that every bubble card has to be marked, every ballot has to be printed and stapled and stamped and folded. There are thousands of man-hours that have to go into this before we even start mailing them out. It’s an unbelievably time-consuming process.

“We usually have several thousand (absentee ballots by mail), but it has definitely increased. And I think after the primary, when so many people voted by mail, they realized how easy it was, and they’re just going to continue to do it.”

To file an absentee ballot by mail, voters must mark one of 12 reasons on an application listing why they can’t vote in person Nov. 3. Unlike the May primary, voters filing applications for absentee ballots by mail ahead of the Nov. 3 general election will not be able to list the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason.

“In the primary, we were under a primary lockdown mandated by the state,” Fouts said. “Now that the state has opened back up, people are going out and about to football games and Walmart. There is no reason to waive that requirement now.”

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said during a Sept. 23 virtual press conference that the general election is a different scenario due to the state entering Stage 5 of its reopening plan, which lifts most crowd-gathering restrictions.

Of the absentee ballots filed so far, Fouts said the most common reason given has been the exception for voters 65 or older who are allowed to list their age as a reason to request a ballot. She said it is historically the most common reason. Other reasons to request an absentee ballot by mail include a resident who doesn’t expect to be in the county on election day, voters confined to their residence and exceptions for disabled voters, among other reasons.

“Some people have hand-written in COVID,” Fouts said, “but they’ve been sent a letter that says that’s not a valid reason. You have to pick a valid reason or vote in person.”

For a full list of reasons needed to apply for an absentee ballot, visit in.gov/sos/elections/2402.htm.

Added voting sites

The county will open 10 voting sites Nov. 3. For the May primary, only two voting sites were open in Boone County: The Boone County Courthouse and Zionsville Town Hall.

County officials hope the added sites will facilitate a quicker turnaround for results.

“We’re going to try to be a little more efficient than we were in the spring because I know it took us a couple of days,” Boone County Clerk Jessica Fouts said. “Both parties are providing additional counters that they didn’t provide last time.”

Although complete results the night of the election are not expected, Fouts still hopes for a timely count.

“Since we’re doing more vote centers, and they all vote on machine, those results will be quicker,” Fouts said.

The 10 sites will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 3, and voting sites will be open starting Oct. 24 at various times nearly every day leading up to the election, which Fouts said will provide “plenty of dates and times and ways to spread out.”

The Hussey-Mayfield Memorial Public Library was recently added as a voting site for Nov. 3. Zionsville Town Hall also will be a voting site.

Fouts said she encourages Boone County residents to consider voting at the Boone County Courthouse starting Oct. 6.

“(It is) the least busy, most efficient location they can go to,” Fouts said. “The state did provide enough (personal protective equipment) for voters as well as workers this time, so there will be plenty of masks and gloves and hand sanitizer at each location for early voting and on election day.”

The state also granted the county a $14,000 grant through the CARES Act to help offset some of the added election costs.

For a full list of voting sites and dates, visit boonecounty.in.gov/Offices/Clerk/Election-Information.


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