voter schedule

ELECTION — Above is the schedule for this year’s Primary Election. To the right are instructions for voting by mail.

Howard County has finalized which locations will be available during the upcoming Primary Election, but members of the local election board are hoping no one uses them, instead opting for mail-in voting.

Just as it has everything else, the COVID-19 outbreak has impacted this year’s Primary Election. In March, Gov. Eric Holcomb pushed back Indiana’s primaries to June 2. That modification forced the Howard County Election Board to alter the area’s schedule for voting locations available both before and for the day of the Primary location. Last week the board approved the new schedule, but the board members were urging local voters to stay home and take advantage of the state’s relaxed requirements for voting by mail.

“We’d really like for all of our locations to be empty on June 2 because all of you have voted early,” said Election Board Member Derrick Steele.

That idea came as the nation collectively wonders how long the pandemic will last. None were certain how long the virus will remain prevalent, and some experts have predicted a second wave of the pandemic could strike later in the year. With social distancing more difficult at vote centers, where, by their nature, people gather to wait in line and vote, the election board’s members were concerned that voting in person could contribute to the health crisis.

“I’m encouraging voting absentee by mail,” said Howard County Clerk Debbie Stewart. “I had wished they would have proceeded with just doing this election by mail … for the health and safety of everyone.”

In addition to pushing back the election, the state made the practice of voting by mail more accessible during this election cycle in response to the pandemic. Last month, the Indiana Election Commission suspended the statutory requirement that Hoosiers must have a suitable excuse for not being able to vote in person. This opened mail-in balloting to all voters.

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For the primary, voters can electronically request a mail-in ballot for the June 2 primary election at IndianaVoters.com. This eliminates the need to print and mail an application for a mail-in absentee ballot. On the website, voters can log in to their account on the state’s voter registration portal and complete the absentee ballot request, which then will be electronically submitted to the county’s election office.

Voters still can submit a paper application for a mail-in ballot. That application is available on the election portal or the Indiana Secretary of State’s website at in.gov/sos.

Once county election officials receive either the paper or electronic application, they will verify the registration and mail the voter an absentee ballot that must be returned to the county election office no later than noon on Election Day in order to be counted. Voter registration ends on May 4.

While local officials encouraged voters to utilize the mail-in option, they still can vote in person.

Election officials were also coordinating with long-term care facilities in order to accommodate confined voting. As such, the clerk encouraged all such facilities to contact the Election Room at 765-614-3220 or via email at jill.quackenbush@howardcountyin.gov or Debbie.stewart@howardcountyin.gov in order to coordinate voting by mail in place of confined voting.

“We are all going through some trying times that none of us have seen or been a part of before,” said Stewart. “The Howard County Election Board and the workers in the election room are working hard to make sure that Howard County voters are still given the opportunity to exercise their right to vote.”