The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, June 02, 2020 1:00 am

Atypical primary election at hand

Light turnout likely due to mail-in ballots

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

This year's primary election is the strangest in memory.

Indiana's Democratic and Republican primaries are historically conducted on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of May. But the coronavirus pandemic caused state officials to reschedule them this year for today.

Allen County reduced the number of polling placed from 116 to 25 and the number of early-voting sites from five to one as many of the usual host buildings are unavailable because of state-imposed limitations on social gatherings.

People voting from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. today are urged to wear masks and will be issued a glove for signing in and voting. Poll workers will use personal protective equipment, including transparent plastic barriers.

And with the removal of restrictions on mail-in absentee voting, far more people already have cast ballots than in any virus-free election.

If all that isn't odd enough, consider that only the results of machine voting in Allen County will be made public tonight. As many as 38,000 absentee ballots will be counted by hand beginning Wednesday, and it might take a couple of days to know the outcomes of any close races.

“It's the election that would not end; it keeps going and going,” Beth Dlug, the county's director of elections, said with a laugh on Monday.

After Russians meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, voting security “was our big, big focus. Pandemic was way down on the bottom of our list that we thought we'd be dealing with, but it quickly rose to the top,” Dlug said during a phone interview.

Thanks to the high volume of mail-in ballots – about 33,000 had been returned as of 3:30 p.m. Monday, compared with 2,815 four years ago – Dlug and the leaders of the local Democratic and Republican parties are predicting light turnout at the polls.

“I would think in-person voting would be down substantially,” Democratic Party Chairwoman Misti Meehan said in an email. She said more than 40,000 of an expected 60,000 to 65,000 voters might have voted before today by mail-in ballots and in-person early voting.

“This year, clearly voters took advantage of the no-fault absentee ballot voting. (Allen County Democratic Party) strongly suggested our members voted by mail this year for their protection,” Meehan said.

Republican Party Chairman Steve Shine is guessing that only about 10,000 people will show up at the polls, based on the results of the 2012 primaries, when fewer than 47,000 county residents voted in total. Then like now, the incumbent president and the presumptive opposite-party nominee had no primary-election challengers by the time Hoosiers voted, although the names of former candidates remained on Indiana ballots after they had quit campaigning.

“The combination of COVID-19 and few contested races and few referendum questions is going to lead to what I believe will be a low turnout,” Shine said in a phone interview. “The people who I think wanted to vote did so already, many of them by mail-in vote.”

Allen County Republicans have six contested races: U.S. House District 3, Indiana Senate District 16, Indiana House Districts 50 and 79, county coroner and county surveyor.

Allen County Democrats have two contested races: U.S. House District 3 and Indiana Senate District 16.

Local voters also will decide a referendum question on whether Fort Wayne Community Schools can spend up to $130 million on renovations at 37 buildings.

Dlug said about 200 people voted at Grand Wayne Center on Monday morning, the last of six days of early in-person voting that attracted 2,218 people in all.

Voters have until noon today to drop off unsent absentee ballots at the election board at 1 E. Main St., Suite 172. Voters who received absentee ballots but would rather vote on an electronic machine can return unvoted ballots to their polling place today and vote by machine.

Dlug said in-person voting should be relatively fast and easy.

“We only have 25 locations, but we have stacked them up with a lot of voting machines, and they are big, big locations – the gyms of the high schools and things like that,” Dlug said. “So people who do come will see a lot of space and be able to get in and out of there fairly quickly.”

Thirty-five teams of two people each will gather Wednesday at Memorial Coliseum to tabulate absentee ballots while staying at least 6 feet away from one another.

“We are really hoping that we are going to be able to get through it in two days at the most,” Dlug said.

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