County clerks across Indiana were notified this week by the Indiana Election Division that voters cannot be required to be screened for COVID-19 or forced to wear masks, use hand sanitizer, wash their hands or even respect social distancing guidelines when showing up to vote in person.
“You don’t want to have anything perceived as voter suppression or requirements of the voter over and above just coming in and voting,” Boone County attorney Bob Clutter said about the development which he said he hadn’t considered. “You know, the screening might make some people uncomfortable and you don’t want to do anything that would in any way inhibit their way to vote.”
The Boone County Courthouse is currently closed to the public. However, people who have business with the courts and all employees are being screened before entering the courthouse with a series of questions about exposure or symptoms of COVID-19. All entrants are also having their temperatures taken. Anyone whose temperature is 100.4 or above is not allowed to enter. Voters will not be subjected to the screening.
Boone County Unified Command met early Wednesday morning to develop a game plan.
“All the voters are going to be entering through the east side of the courthouse,” Clutter said. “(Voters) will be restricted from going into other parts of the courthouse.”
Early voting cannot begin until 8 a.m. May 26. Boone County Clerk Jessica Fouts said an earlier plan to open early voting on Saturday is prohibited by the Indiana Election Commission. Early voting will take place at the Boone County Courthouse from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 27-30 and then from 8 a.m. to noon June 1. Polls open on the delayed Election Day at 6 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. June 2 at the courthouse and Zionsville Town Hall, the only two vote centers available.
A three-page memo sent to county voting officials also says that political parties and candidate volunteers cannot be prohibited from gathering outside of the designated voting chute on Election Day. Usually, these volunteers distribute political handbills to voters approaching the polling location. The same restrictions are not allowed for voters who are using a traveling board. The memo said “the county election board does not have home-rule authority to prescribe additional requirements for a voter to cast their ballot in-person.” Any additional requirements would “infringe on the federal and state constitutional rights afforded to a voter.”
This year’s primary election has been delayed and both state and county officials have been strongly urging voters to vote by mail. In fact, the state lifted all requirements about voting by mail for the June 2 primary. Fouts mailed 48,000 absentee applications to all eligible voters in the county. She said she received 9,700 applications and has mailed out the same number of ballots.
“We normally have about 1,500,” Fouts said of a typical election for absentee ballots sent in by mail.
Mailed in ballots must be received by noon June 2 (Election Day) to be counted. The top election official, Secretary of State Connie Lawson, warned voters that election results will likely be delayed because of the large mail-in ballots.
“If (the ballots) all come back I’d say we’re going to be counting for a couple of days,” Fouts said of the results. “Hopefully, by the end of the week.”
Mail ballots must be tracked. So the clerk’s office has a list of voters who requested a ballot. When the ballot is returned, the name on the list is checked off. Then, beginning at noon on Election Day, eight teams of two people, a Republican and a Democrat, open the ballots and collect the Scantron cards for each precinct. The cards are then counted by an optical reader. Usually, this happens behind closed office doors, but because of the massive amount of absentee mail ballots, Fouts said she will be putting tables scattered around the second floor outside of her office.
The Boone County Election Board voted to allow counting to stop election night at 9 p.m. If it is not completed, the counting will restart at 8 a.m. June 3. Fouts said the report for sorting the ballots is 1,500 pages.
“We have to match each ballot to the report,” she said. “That’s what takes the longest amount of time.”
She currently plans to release early results as usual, the machine results are quick to tally, but it could be awhile before all mailed-in ballots are counted.
“In 2016, we had 19,000 vote and we’re already at almost 10,000,” Fouts said about the turnout. “There will still be plenty of people that go on Election Day.”
The latest numbers of positive COVID-19 cases in Boone County is at 281 with 38 deaths. The Indiana State Department of Health is reporting 29,272 cases statewide with 1,716 deaths as of Wednesday at noon.
“These (CDC) recommendations have been in place and I’m optimistic people will take their safety into their own hands,” Boone County Health Department Emergency Preparedness Director Tom Ryan said.
Ryan added that voters who want to be screened can come to the south door, but it is unclear how they would merge with voters entering the courthouse on the east side. There will be no masks or PPE available for voters who want it.