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Public calls for explanation of ballot shortages in Monroe County election



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Students line up to vote outside the Indiana Memorial Union on Nov. 6. Polls across the county were extended to 7 p.m. due to high voter turnout and ballot shortages. Claire Livingston Buy Photos

Some Monroe County poll volunteers are asking county officials to investigate or publicly explain the ballot shortages and long lines on Election Day.

Voter turnout in Monroe County more than doubled that of the 2014 midterm, when only 26 percent of registered voters cast a ballot. This election saw at least 57 percent voter turnout, exceeding even the 2016 Presidential election.

This historic turnout caused problems for voters, as some polling sites ran out of ballots as early as noon on Election Day.

Volunteer poll watcher David Gamage sent a letter to many county officials calling for a public investigation of the election administration, including ballot shortages. The Indiana Daily Student, among other local news organizations, also received a copy of this letter.

Gamage said he thinks the voters deserve an explanation of the ballot shortages and long lines on Election Day. He said multiple county commissioners and county council members have responded to his email so far. 

Betsy Greene, another volunteer poll watcher, said she thinks it was clear that mistakes were made, but she doesn’t suspect anyone of malfeasance or ill motives, she said.

“In my experience, elections are conducted by people of goodwill who are volunteering to try to help our democracy,” Greene said. 

Election supervisor Karen Wheeler said she began printing new ballots at 9 a.m. Election Day because she could already see turnout numbers were going to be very high. Wheeler said she didn’t stop printing new ballots from 9 a.m. until after 6 p.m., except to put in more paper.

Monroe County only has two printers that can be used for ballots, she said. Early voting ballots are printed on the spot as voters come in. For Election Day, the county orders ballots in advance from a third-party vendor in Austin, Texas.

Election Board member Carolyn VandeWiele said Election Central staff did its best to prepare for projected higher turnout this year, but ordering ballots and preparing for voter turnout is always a guessing game. 

“We thought turnout would be higher this year than the average midterm, but obviously we didn’t get the numbers quite right," VandeWiele said.

By law, Indiana voting hours are from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Although Monroe County extended voting to 7 p.m., a judge did not sign the order until about 5:40 p.m.

Wheeler said her office was notified around 5:50 p.m. and staff members did their best to call all 34 polling sites in those 10 minutes, but they had a limited number of workers and phones available. 

Wheeler said the Election Central office was at maximum capacity with staffers and volunteers on Election Day. Since the election, there has been some discussion of trying to move the election team into a larger office.

“Where we’re at right now, it would be very hard to see how we could handle the presidential election without more of pretty much everything, but space is a big thing,” Wheeler said. 

She said having more space would allow them to have more staffers and volunteers and therefore be more efficient.

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