Pandemic and the Polls: Election officials explain changes to primary

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TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — Primary election day is quickly approaching in Indiana, with several important races for voters to consider.

“In Vigo County, a lot of times big elections are in the primaries.” Vigo Co. Clerk Brad Newman said, “This year is no different, it’s gonna be a huge year for that.”

Brad Newman on the importance of this primary race:

Election officials throughout the state are preparing for a primary election unlike any before, with several changes voters will notice when they show up to the polls.

“We’re gonna have 9-12 feet between the voting machines,” Newman said, “Our people are gonna be wearing gloves and a lot of them will be wearing masks. Every two hours we’re gonna do a sanitary cleansing.”

Even the tools used to physically vote have changed due to the pandemic.

“Where in the past you had the choice of using a stylus or your finger; not now,” Newman said, “Everybody’s gonna have to use the stylus.”

Secretary Lawson on voter turnout:

In Knox County, similar practices are being used to ensure safety, with the help of some innovation and an everyday tool.

“You can use a Q-tip to actually push the buttons on the voting machines, so I’ll have Q-tips available for voters,” Knox Co. Clerk David Shelton said.

Secretary Lawson on the use of PPE for the primaries:

Shelton said they’ve already seen three times the mail-in vote applications as usual.

“I’ve been vocal about mail-in just because I want everyone to have the opportunity to vote,” Shelton said, “Now, in my opinion, there’s no substitute for going to the polls, but I realized that in this current COVID-19 pandemic scare, I have a lot of concerned voters.”

Shelton is even borrowing a tent from George Rogers Clark park leaders to move early voting outdoors.

“People can line up out in the fresh air, maintain social distancing, and vote early,” Shelton said.

Brad Newman explains polling hours:

Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson said in-person early voting has been approved for May 26-June 1 to curb the lines seen during other state’s primaries like in Wisconsin.

“There are people who feel that it’s their constitutional right to go to the polls and vote on Election Day,” Lawson said, “So we were very strong about allowing that and then decided after we saw what happened in Wisconsin to spread that over a period of days so we wouldn’t have crowds at the polls.”

Shelton said his biggest challenge has been finding poll workers, due in part to the usual demographic that fills that role.

“In Indiana, the average age of a poll worker is 72; that’s the prime demographic that all officials are saying ‘you need to stay home, you need to stay away from crowds’,” Shelton said.

Through requests to local high schools and other organizations, Shelton secured 40 poll workers. Newman said these methods of improvisation may be beneficial for future elections.

“This may be something that we learn for in the future for polling locations, hey this will work better if we do this or if we do that,” Newman said.

Brad Newman explains mail-in count resolution:

Newman added that November’s election is already on his team’s mind.

“June 3, boom, we take off right again starting for November,” Newman said, “Usually we have a larger window obviously, so some of these discussions have to be had right now.”

And Newman is predicting a huge turnout for November, with early estimates of 40,000 people voting.

May 21 is the deadline to request an absentee ballot. You still need to request an absentee ballot, you can contact your local county election or download a printable application to receive an absentee ballot from the website.

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