August 2020 There has been a good deal of information posted on social media regarding in-person and absentee voting for the upcoming general election, and most of it I found to be utterly confusing or partially inaccurate. To set the record straight, I contacted the Hamilton County Election Administrator Beth Sheller to learn more about how registered voters can safely vote amid the pandemic, where they can vote and how early they can vote to avoid long queues on Nov. 3, 2020. Voting via Absentee Ballot Listed on the Hamilton County Election Office webpage are the 12 qualifiers for absentee voting. Sheller explained the difference between no-excuse mail-in voting (that Gov. Holcomb rejected for the general election) and absentee voting. \u201cAbsentee voting is always available for people who qualify,\u201d Sheller said. \u201cAbsentee requires you to request and complete an application for an absentee ballot. With absentee, you have to have a reason to request and mark one of the 12 listed reasons for us to send you a ballot to vote absentee. No-excuse mail-in voting is where our office would mail every registered voter an application and they wouldn\u2019t have to have a qualifying reason.\u201d Sheller emphasized that the deadline for absentee ballots is Oct. 22, 2020, but warned that waiting until the 11th hour could be too late. By the time the ballot would be mailed and received, then completed and mailed to her office, it may not arrive on or before Election Day. Ballots received after Nov. 3 will not be counted. \u201cWe\u2019re accepting applications right now and have already received well over 7,000 absentee ballot applications,\u201d Sheller said. \u201cWe will start sending out ballots on Sept. 14. If you get your application in now and by Sept. 18, you\u2019ll be among the first ones to get a ballot. The state requires that any applications we receive by Sept. 18 must go out by Sept. 19.\u201d I received some emails from folks wanting to know the election office\u2019s definition of \u201cconfined\u201d and if claiming confinement due to COVID-19 is a legitimate reason to apply for absentee or would it be considered voter fraud. Being a high-risk member of the population myself, I thought it prudent to ask, on behalf of these readers, how the election office views the definition of confinement. \u201cI\u2019ve had a lot of people call me and ask me that question,\u201d Sheller stated. \u201cWe\u2019ve also had a lot of people marking \u2018confined\u2019 on their ballots. I ask people, \u2018Are you going out to the grocery store or to church or going out of your house at all?\u2019 and all but one person that I\u2019ve asked told me that they\u2019ve gone absolutely nowhere since March. If you\u2019re going out to the grocery store, then you are not truly \u2018confined.\u2019 If you are truly confining, then you can mark \u2018confined\u2019 as one of the reasons to apply for an absentee ballot.\u201d Expect Social Distancing and Safety Protocols at the Polls In-person voters can expect the same distancing and safety protocols that they experienced at the polls during the primary election with the added requirement of masks so as long as the governor\u2019s mask mandate remains in effect. \u201cWe\u2019ve already got the supplies that we will need from the primary,\u201d Sheller confirmed. \u201cWhen people walk into a polling place, they will automatically be socially distanced by the Xs on the floor that will be 6 feet apart. There will be hand-sanitizing stations for poll workers and voters, and yes, right now we are required to wear masks\u2014poll workers and voters. We also have the sneeze shields that you saw during the primary. They\u2019re like the shields that you see in stores where the person checks in and signs the poll pads. We have a special sanitizer that the state provided for the machines and poll pads, and we will be sanitizing those as much as possible. Gloves and masks will be provided to the poll workers. I tell people that it is safer to vote in person than when they go to the grocery store or other places because of all the measures that we are taking.\u201d Take Advantage of Early Voting Hamilton County is offering eight early voting locations for this general election. \u201cThere will be two in Carmel, two in Fishers and two in Westfield,\u201d Sheller explained. \u201cThese will be available two weeks before the election. All of the sites and times are located on our website. Of course, early voting will be available here at the judicial center where we always have it, and then at the Hamilton County Fairgrounds, we will have an entire month of early voting available beginning on Tuesday, Oct. 6. We added at least 10 poll sites, and I\u2019m hoping that with truly eligible absentee voting and early voting, the polls won\u2019t be as crowded on Nov. 3. There are 124 polling locations in our county, and 33 are in Carmel.\u201d For more information on how to register to vote, how to apply for an absentee ballot and for all other election-related questions and topics, visit www.hamiltoncounty.in.gov\/222\/Current-Election-Information.