This year's general election carries high stakes for our state and our nation. That's why people across the political spectrum have one unified message: Vote.
Just as citizens have a responsibility to cast a ballot, election and law enforcement officials have a responsibility to ensure the voting process is safe and secure.
Officials with the Fort Wayne Police Department, Allen County Sheriff's Department and local Department of Homeland Security are coordinating a response in case citizens show up at polling places with weapons in a misguided effort to provide security, according to a discussion at a Fort Wayne Board of Safety meeting this month.
An armed militia has never before been needed to ensure a safe election process, and it isn't needed now. The most any voter should have to worry about when heading to a polling place is how long the line will be.
Although law enforcement officials are trained to react appropriately in quickly evolving situations, they are right to plan ahead when potential threats are known.
The safety of the votes themselves is also a reason for concern.
Indiana is one of only eight states that uses paperless voting machines, according to the Indiana University Public Policy Institute. A new analysis by the Indianapolis-based research organization found that voting machines in 52 of Indiana's 92 counties don't create a paper trail. Allen County uses the direct-recording electronic voting machines in place in those counties, but it is one of eight counties with a verified voting paper audit trail. Marion County, the state's most populous, uses ballot-marking devices.
“Without a verifiable paper record of votes, it can be difficult to detect security breaches or errors in the electronic systems,” said Joti Martin, a policy analyst at the institute. “Without that paper trail, it also is more challenging to try to recount or audit votes in the event of an election-related issue.”
If allegations of voting machine tampering arise next month, it's doubtful Indiana could offer satisfactory evidence. Almost 60% of the state's voting machines couldn't produce written documentation to confirm votes cast. Post-election challenges aren't unheard of. They were lodged in Texas and Georgia in 2018, where a computer software glitch was blamed for changing or deleting some votes.
Last year, after a federal lawsuit was filed, the Indiana General Assembly passed a law requiring counties throughout Indiana to replace paperless voting machines by 2030.
“However, this timeline leaves elections vulnerable for the next decade,” the IU Public Policy Institute stated in its analysis. “While some areas in the state have already moved to paper-based voting systems, other jurisdictions say that a lack of funding is holding them back.”
Local officials throughout Indiana need to prioritize funding for updated voting machines. And elections directors statewide should follow the Public Policy Institute's advice to upgrade post-election accuracy audits, perform voting machine maintenance and train poll workers in their duties and responsibilities.
In the first week of early voting in Allen County, 5,830 people cast ballots at Election Board offices at Memorial Coliseum.
The first week of in-person voting in 2016 saw 1,963 ballots cast.
“Our numbers have been outstanding,” said Allen County Elections Director Beth Dlug. “It is very exciting to see the participation. Our total number of voters went up every day last week – Tuesday was 1,347; Friday was 1,673.”
She said the election board is seeing about 50 to 60 voters surrender their mail-in ballots in favor of voting in person each day, and another 100 to 125 completed ballots are delivered in person daily. It is not necessary to wait in line to hand over a completed ballot. Hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Coliseum. Satellite voting locations will open Oct. 26.
Dlug said the Election Board will mail postcards next week with assigned polling locations and satellite location days and hours.
To determine whether your mailed ballot has been received, go to indianavoters.in.gov/.