US Election 2020: What You Need to Know to Safely Cast Your Vote
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.
“Absentee voting is always available for people who qualify,” Sheller said. “Absentee 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’t have to have a qualifying reason.”
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.
“We’re accepting applications right now and have already received well over 7,000 absentee ballot applications,” Sheller said. “We will start sending out ballots on Sept. 14. If you get your application in now and by Sept. 18, you’ll be among the first ones to get a ballot. The state requires that any applications we receive by Sept. 18 must go out [via mail] by Sept. 19.”
I received some emails from folks wanting to know the election office’s definition of “confined” 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.
“I’ve had a lot of people call me and ask me that question,” Sheller stated. “We’ve also had a lot of people marking ‘confined’ on their ballots. I ask people, ‘Are you going out to the grocery store or to church or going out of your house at all?’ and all but one person that I’ve asked told me that they’ve gone absolutely nowhere since March. If you’re going out to the grocery store, then you are not truly ‘confined.’ If you are truly confining, then you can mark ‘confined’ as one of the reasons to apply for an absentee ballot.”
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’s mask mandate remains in effect.
“We’ve already got the supplies that we will need from the primary,” Sheller confirmed. “When 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—poll workers and voters. We also have the sneeze shields that you saw during the primary. They’re like the shields that you see in stores [and will be used] 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.”
Take Advantage of Early Voting
Hamilton County is offering eight early voting locations for this general election.
“There will be two [locations] in Carmel, two in Fishers and two in Westfield,” Sheller explained. “These 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’m hoping that with truly eligible absentee voting and early voting, the polls won’t be as crowded on Nov. 3. There are 124 polling locations in our county, and 33 are in Carmel.”
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.