With the COVID-19 pandemic putting millions of eligible voters at risk of contracting the coronavirus at in-person polls, a record number of absentee ballots are likely to be sent in for next week’s election.
Absentee ballot tabulation — the process of counting each absentee ballot — is allowed to begin on Election Day at various times across the state. Valerie Warycha, communications director for the Indiana Secretary of State’s office, said this is a county-by-county issue.
“When it comes to counting and processing absentee ballots, this can vary by county based on the type of equipment they use and if the county election board has adopted a resolution,” Warycha said in an email. “For example, counties can adopt a resolution that will allow them to start counting ballots at 6 a.m. on Election Day. Other counties may wait until noon to start counting.”
In Monroe County, absentee ballot counting could begin as early as noon. The timing has to do with what type of county is counting the ballots, said Nicole Browne, the Monroe County clerk.
“If you are a vote center county, you might be able to start counting sooner,” she said. “We are not.”
Vote center counties, of which there are 46 in Indiana, are polling locations where any registered voter in the county may vote. Monroe County is not a vote center county, though it is an electronic poll book county.
“If you are an e-poll book county, which we are, we may be able to start counting as early as noon if you have a resolution to begin counting sooner than 6:01 p.m,” she said. “We do have [that]. We may be in a position to begin counting some things earlier.”
Polls in Indiana close at 6 p.m. Despite the earlier start time, Browne made it clear it will still take time to count the ballots.
“Mail ballots take longer to process and tabulate," Browne said. "If there’s a chance we can have results on election night, I am not at all able to promise that.”
While Indiana counties can’t count ballots until Election Day, all Indiana counties are allowed to start initial signature verification prior to Election Day. This is the process that aims to verify the ballot was submitted by the same person who requested the ballot. If the signatures do not match, the ballot is not counted. Browne said there have been signature concerns, but the board is trying to address them.
“We actually have had some signatures that have been challenged,” Browne said. “We have gone to extenuating lengths to contact a voter if we have an issue. I have personally driven to a residence to deliver a letter from the voter registration board expressing concern about the signature.”