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Thanks to schedule change and COVID-19, ‘inside’ help and new locations could be needed election day

Indiana's primary has been delayed until June 2, but more than the date will have to be changed because of COVID-19. (News-Sentinel.com file photo)
Beth Dlug (News-Sentinel.com file photo)

Thanks to COVID-19, Indiana’s primary has been pushed back from May 5 to June 2. But it’s possible a lot more than the date will have to change — including the enlistment of institutional and medical personnel in the voting process.

Allen County elections officials have long sent so-called “traveling boards” to nursing homes and other institutions to help residents who cannot leave or fill out absentee ballots cast their votes. In normal times, the process involves a representative of each political party, who directly assist in the voting process.

But these are far from normal times and, with institutions dramatically limiting outside access to residents, the Allen County Election Board on Monday was expected to consider a plan that would give workers at nursing homes and other facilities the authority to help patients and residents vote. One worker chosen by each party would be present during the voting and would be trained sworn in and supervised by bipartisan election officials, according to Beth Dlug, Allen County director of elections.

“Generally, about 250 people vote this way (through traveling boards),” said Dlug, who added that because of the threat posed by COVID-19 the Election Board is stressing the use of mailed absentee ballots. She also wants to “flatten the curve” by encouraging people to cast absentee votes now to avoid a system-taxing rush later.

With the primary still two months away, Dlug knows conditions could change dramatically by election day. But planning can’t wait, and she already knows that the postponement means at least one satellite voting site will be unavailable and has to be replaced. With libraries and some other places currently closed to the public, voting site in those facilities may have to be relocated as well, and the need for “social distancing” could make some locations unsuitable as well.

“We’re taking everything day to day,” said Dlug, who does not yet know whether facility and medical employees who help with voting will qualify for election pay.

The Brennan Center for Justice has estimated that COVID-19 could increase the nationwide cost of this year’s election by $982 million to $1.4 billion because of the need to print and mail more absentee ballots, greater distance-voting security, additional facilities and staffing and other expenses.

Despite the uncertainty, some facts have been established about the primary — at least for now:

• Monday, May 4: voter registration deadline

• Tuesday, May 5: early voting begins In person

• Friday, May 8: end of the pre-primary campaign finance reporting period

• Thursday, May 14: traveling boards begin

• Thursday, May 21: deadline for a request for an absentee by-mail ballot to be received by the clerk or Board of Elections and Registration

• Sunday, May 31: end of the pre-primary supplemental campaign finance large contribution reporting period

• Monday, June 1: deadline for traveling boards and noon deadline for early voting

• Tuesday, June 2: primary day (noon is the deadline to return absentee ballots).

“As we all come together to fight the coronavirus and flatten the curve, it’s important to remember that we are all making sacrifices in our lives to keep Hoosiers across the state as healthy and safe as possible,” Allen County Republican Party Chairman Steve Shine said in a statement. “However, COVID-19 should not stop anyone from exercising their right to vote!”

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