The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, June 03, 2020 1:00 am

Flood of absentees skews turnout stats

DAVE GONG | The Journal Gazette

About 89% of Allen County voters who requested absentee ballots returned them to the Election Board by Tuesday's deadline, the county's director of elections said Tuesday.

Voters appeared to prefer the vote-by-mail option: About 12,000 more people submitted absentee ballots than voted in-person during early voting or on Election Day.

In total, 59,616 ballots – including absentee ballots – were cast in Allen County on Tuesday. That's nearly 39,000 fewer than the 2016 presidential primary.  

In 2016, 79,586 people cast ballots on primary Election Day, 2,815 mailed in their ballots and 16,171 voted early. 

About 90% of the absentee ballots sent out in 2016 were returned.

The Election Board responded to about 38,808 absentee ballot requests ahead of Tuesday's primary, 34,544 of which were returned completed, Director of Elections Beth Dlug said Tuesday, citing unofficial results.

More than 500 absentee ballots were received Tuesday before the noon deadline, she added. 

“We had people streaming all morning dropping their ballots off,” Dlug said. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic swept the nation, many local and state election officials have promoted vote-by-mail as a way to participate in the democratic process while continuing to protect against the coronavirus. 

The number of polling locations was significantly reduced for Tuesday's primary due to COVID-19 concerns, as well. Allen County residents had only 25 places to vote in person on Election Day, compared with 116 in the 2018 municipal election. 

Early voting was also limited to Grand Wayne Center in downtown Fort Wayne. 

A total of 22,856 voted in person Tuesday, unofficial reports released by the Election Board show. An additional 2,216 voted early. 

Although election officials were able to tally votes cast at Election Day and early-voting machines, it will take time to process all of the absentee ballots. Starting today, teams at Memorial Coliseum will begin examining and counting absentee submissions.

Dlug has previously said the counting could take several days to complete.

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