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Dozens of Monroe County voters wait up to an hour for first day of early voting



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Voters wait in line to vote Tuesday at a polling location at 401 W. 7th St. Tuesday was the first day of early voting in Indiana. Ethan Levy

Registered voters in Monroe County began voting in person Tuesday in Bloomington. This year there is only one early voting location, which is one fewer than was available for the 2016 general election.

Early voting will take place for 22 days in October and November. Those who wish to vote early must have been registered as a Monroe County voter by Monday. Here are the complete hours for Election Central, the early voting location, located at 401 W. 7th St., Suite 100. 

Dozens of people lined up Tuesday outside of Election Central waiting to vote. In the morning, voters waited up to an hour, and the line persisted throughout the day. The line climbed up to around 60 people in the late morning and mid afternoon. Monroe County Clerk Nicole Browne said she was very pleased to see so many people and said the day was running smoothly.

This was IU alumna Alyssa Athens' second time voting in a general election. The 2020 IU graduate said she decided to vote Tuesday to take advantage of the sunny weather and get ahead of the crowds. While Athens thought it would be convenient to have more options for early voting sites, she was happy with the overall experience.

"I anticipated a little bit longer of a line," she said. "But it's been moving pretty well and everyone's been good about social distancing."

In previous general elections and the 2016 presidential election, the North Showers Building and Election Central were available to the residents of Monroe County for early voting. However, the Monroe County Election Board decided last fall that Election Central would be the sole early voting location for the 2020 general election.

Election Supervisor Karen Wheeler said she believes a single-location system is less confusing to voters. In previous elections, a different location would be open depending on the day.

“I think one actually works better,” Wheeler said. “It was hard to get everybody to understand how that worked.”

Browne said the decision was made based on several factors, including hiring the additional staff needed to run a second polling location and a lack of interest in early voting in past elections. Browne estimated about 10% of Monroe County early voters used the North Showers location in 2016.

“I’m hopeful that Monroe County voters recognize we have to have bipartisan teams for every step of the voting process,” Browne said. “From the time that you check in, until the time that you turn your ballot over to us, until it can be scanned and tabulated on Election Day.”

Browne had previously estimated a higher turnout for this year’s early voting period due to the COVID-19 pandemic but maintains one polling location will be enough to serve them.

“I am always hopeful for people to take advantage,” Browne said. “I would prefer that people vote early. I have that expectation because that spreads it out for Election Day for people who may not have been able to take advantage earlier.” 

The budget was heavily considered in the decision to cut an early voting poll. In addition to safety measures taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wheeler said it has been an expensive voting season overall.

“We have spent a lot on our election,” Wheeler said. “Can we afford to spend more when we think we can handle it sufficiently? And I think we can.” 

Browne said one polling location also means ballots will not have to be transported in the evenings as they were in 2016. She said this is crucial to having better ballot security.

The safety precautions and social distancing measures taken during the early voting period will be the same as those taken on Election Day, Browne said. Voters maintained distance between one another in line, and surfaces and styluses were cleaned after each use. 

“We learned a lot from the primary,” Browne said. “We were able to take what we learned and implement them for the general election.”

Browne said the office has received overwhelming offers for assistance with polls in recent weeks. She is optimistic the election center will be sufficiently staffed throughout the early voting period.

“At least every day I get about a dozen requests for people to serve,” Browne said. “We not only have a list, but we have a backup list and I believe that we will be well-staffed for the election.” 

Those willing to assist at the polls can still apply and are recommended to reach out to the Monroe County Election Center at 812-349-2690 or email a recruiter at pollrecruiter@monroedems.org for Democratic participants or pamsamples@gmail.com for Republican participants. 

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