Marion County officials hope to make November election as ‘normal’ as possible

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INDIANAPOLIS — Members of the Marion County Election board are making plans to ensure the November 3 election runs as “normal” as possible, according to the board’s director of elections.

“We know that turnout in the primary was low and that we’re going to have our super bowl of elections in November,” said Brienne Delaney. “We are going to do our best to try to plan for what I will call a normal voting experience for the fall.”

Such plans will include an emphasis on recruiting poll workers so that more voting locations can be opened around the county. The June 2 primary saw long lines that left some voters waiting in line for several hours. The long lines resulted from the fact that only 22 voting locations were available on election day, compared to more than 250 locations in previous years. Only 22 polling locations were open because recruiting poll workers was a major challenge after the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially volunteers who are in their retirement years.

Delaney said the election board is already making plans to begin recruiting a younger generation of volunteers so more voting locations can be opened on November.

“I can’t say right now exactly what that means,” Delaney said. “The board is still taking that into consideration, consulting with our polling locations that we’ve had in the past, trying to figure out what’s available.”

The June primary also saw an unprecedented number of absentee ballots sent to Marion County voters, who were encouraged to vote by mail in an effort to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Of about 128,000 absentee ballots sent out to voters, more than 1,800 were rejected because they were returned after deadline. Roughly one in five ballots were either not returned, lost in the mail or something else.

“It could be something that happened internally, it could be something that happened with the post office,” Delaney explained. “It could be something that happened with the voter, maybe they mailed it to the wrong address or something happened like that.”

Marion County voter Wendy Keller says she and her family requested mail-in ballots two days before the deadline to ask for them, but they never arrived in the mail.

“I got a reply that said ‘Great, we’re going to send these out right away,’” Keller recalled. “And they never came.”

By the time Jun 1 came around, Keller and her family decided they would go out and vote on the day of the primary. They did and were able to cast their votes in person. However, Keller would still like the option to vote by mail in November as a way to avoid exposure to COVID-19.

“I think that if we can get paid online, and we can receive things in the mail like social security cards, I think we can vote by mail,” Keller said. “I’m really hoping that they get this worked out. Voting is important this year and for this upcoming election.”

Delaney said the Marion County Election Board plans to meet this summer with the U.S. Postal Service in an effort to determine how many ballots were lost in the mail.

Julia Vaughn, police director for the watchdog group Common Cause Indiana, applauds efforts to increase in-person voting opportunities this fall.

“In Indiana, we have traditionally been an in-person voting state,” Vaughn said. “That’s the way the vast majority of voters have participated, yet we wanted to shift that in a matter of months.”

Vaughn points out that the state of Indiana received about $8 million in federal funding to help hold the primary election while guarding against COVID-19, and much of that money was used to purchase PPE while also promoting absentee voting. She believes counties should be given more flexibility in deciding how such funding should be spent.

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