Clerk warns that thousands of mail-in ballots might not be counted; voters can still go to polls

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Thousands of voters in Marion County who planned to vote by mail in Tuesday’s election may not have the opportunity because they won’t receive their ballots in time, Marion County Clerk Myla Eldridge told state officials in a letter Thursday.

Myla Eldridge

In addition, some voters who mailed in their absentee ballots might not have them counted because they won’t reach the Clerk’s Office by a noon deadline on Election Day, Eldridge said in the memo to Secretary of State Connie Lawson and copied to Gov. Eric Holcomb and other local and state officials.

Eldridge told state officials “it is not too late” to extend the deadline for receipt of mailed ballots. She implored the Indiana Election Commission to act.

“What a shame it will be for voters and candidates if thousands of votes sit in stacks uncounted under these circumstances,” she wrote.

Even without an extension, most voters have options. Those who did not receive a ballot or who fear their ballot won’t make back to the Clerk’s Office by a noon deadline on Election Day can still go to the polls in person to cast a vote or drop off their mail-in ballots.

Eldridge said in her letter that COVID-19-related staffing issues and significant delays at the U.S. Postal Service have contributed to the county’s difficulty in processing 123,000 applications from residents who want to vote by mail. That’s 20 times the number of mail-in ballots voters requested during the 2016 primary election, the last time a presidential race was on the ballot.

“It appears certain that many voters will not have time to receive their ballots in the mail, deposit the voted ballots back in the mail, and have them received by the Marion County Election Board” by the state’s noon deadline on Election Day, she said.

“In short, this could mean that thousands of ballots will remain uncounted despite the best efforts of both the Marion County Election Board and the voters themselves—even while state and county officials have strongly encouraged voters to vote by mail,” she wrote.

Lawson and Holcomb announced in March—after Holcomb ordered non-essential businesses closed and Hoosiers to largely stay at home—that they would delay Indiana’s primary election from May 5 to June 2. In addition, the Indiana Election Commission voted to offer voting by mail to everyone.

Normally, Indiana voters are required to provide a reason they want to vote absentee, such as being required to work the entire 12 hours polls are open or having a disability. With those restrictions, few Hoosiers have chosen to vote by mail.

But to try cut down on crowded polling places and therefore stem transmission of the virus, state and local officials have been encouraging voters to cast ballots by mail during the primary. The Indianapolis City-County Council even voted to send a ballot application to every registered voter in Marion County.

The result has been a rush on mail-in voting that has buried the Clerk’s Office and raised concerns from some candidates.

Kelly Mitchell

State Treasurer Kelly Mitchell, who is running in Indiana’s 5th Congressional District primary, sent a letter on Thursday to Eldridge, Hogsett and the Marion County Election Board expressing concerns about voters who requested absentee ballots but have yet to receive them.

“I have personally spoken with voters who are concerned their voice will not be heard,” Mitchell said in a statement. “The city of Indianapolis has an obligation to ensure voters are not disenfranchised and should act immediately to remedy this issue so all eligible voters have the ability to exercise their constitutional right safely.”

A number of voters spoke out on social media as well, saying they still had not received their ballots.

Eldridge blamed state officials for some of the problems, saying the Indiana Election Commission—which is part of Lawson’s office—failed to act to set reasonable deadlines for receiving absentee ballots.

In addition, she said, state officials’ decision to require counties to “plan for and administer a substantial in-person election” in addition to encouraging most people to vote by mail “strained our resources to the breaking point.”

Eldridge expressed those concerns to Lawson in April, and Democrats pushed the election commission to extend deadlines for receiving ballots. But the commission did not act on the requests.

Voters who are concerned about their ballots can still go to a polling location on Election Day and cast a ballot after filling out a form to void the pending absentee ballot so it will not be counted.

Voters are also allowed to return their absentee ballots to a polling place instead of mailing it in. But they are still due by noon.

Julia Vaughn

“Our election workers will accept hand delivered absentee ballots at our three early voting locations and our 22 election day vote centers,” Eldridge said.

Julia Vaughn, Common Cause Indiana policy director, said taking a ballot into the polling place defeats the purpose of voting by mail, but she hopes voters know they can do that because of the delays in mail delivery.

“We’re certainly working to make sure people recognize they have that option,” Vaughn said.

The crush of absentee ballots means that results aren’t expected to be finalized on Tuesday night.

Russell Hollis, a spokesman for the Clerk’s’ Office, said it could take one to two days to count all of Marion County’s absentee ballots.

Lindsey Erdody contributed to this story.

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12 thoughts on “Clerk warns that thousands of mail-in ballots might not be counted; voters can still go to polls

    1. Darrell,
      Knowing that tens of thousands of people would be voting by mail, I assumed there was going to be this big rush that they were not used to handing. Any reasonable thinking person could have predicted this. Rather than wait for the somebody to mail an application to me, I printed my application, filled it out and mailed it in. About 5 days latter I got my ballot and then filled that out and mailed it back in. That was weeks ago.

      If you smell a rat, it was most likely a slow procrastinating rat that waited for the convenience of having the stuff handed to him, knowing he would be one of thousands trying to negotiate the maze ahead.

  1. Extending receiving mail in ballots past election day? You got to be kidding! No way should that be allowed!

    Don’t like the results? Flood the mail with new mystery ballots!

    That is a rat!!!

    1. Given you wouldn’t know the results until after election day it might be hard to flood the mail with new mystery ballots that don’t already have a postmark for election day.

      There’s a long standing rule in contract law saying the acceptance of a contract is valid the date it is postmarked. The Indiana Election Commission saying a vote counts if it is postmarked on Election Day is hardly scandalous. A person VOTED on Election Day. The ballot doesn’t say mail this one week early just to make sure it arrives on time. To insist a person’s vote doesn’t count when things well beyond their control, such as when they receive a ballot and the speed at which the United States Postal Service runs, seems rather undemocratic especially with a very arbitrary rule. Most other states say the vote counts as long as it is postmarked by election day.

  2. My husband and I applied, he received his ballot in about 2 weeks, never got mine. I applied again, as requested by them, 3 weeks have gone by since my second application, no ballot received.

  3. I actually like the option of getting the mail-in ballot, filling it out at leisure at home, then just dropping it off. Why haven’t we done that before? Less exposure to the masses at the polling places, no need to stand in line, no germs at the machine, and I get to cast my vote. Just need to make sure people can only drop off their own ballot with ID.

    NOTE: I noticed that my party affiliation is printed on the outside of the envelope. That makes me very nervous anyone of the other party could easily lose it in the round file. If I drop it off, FOR SURE no one is putting it in a pile in the corner, or in their trunk, never to be counted!!

    1. Because before, you had to state an explicit/apprpved reason for a mail-in ballot (out-of-town, etc). The reasons you state wouldn’t qualify.

      As far as party-id on the outside – considering this is a primary and the contests being between people of the SAME party, any discarded ballot based on party-label wouldn’t have a predictable affect on the outcome – even assuming what you say would happen.

  4. It seems Ms Eldridge’s office was not up to the task, but wants to blame the postal service, the virus, and anything else but herself. None of these obstacles popped up overnight. They should’ve been planned for. Authorize overtime, hire temps, whatever…just get the job done!

  5. It isn’t the best solution, but a simple one that would help would be that instead of saying that the ballots must be received by noon on election day to be counted, to say that they must be postmarked by election day.

  6. The website says they must be mailed on or before the 28th in order to be received in time to be counted. I just got my ballot this afternoon, the 29th.