Counting the votes: Local election officials expect to have results tallied on Election Night

20201024cr absentee ballot update 01

Bartholomew County election officials are “very confident” they will be able to tally all the votes for the Nov. 3 presidential election — including thousands of absentee-by-mail ballots — on Election Night.

A total of 7,106 voters in Bartholomew County have requested absentee-by-mail ballots before Thursday’s deadline, the most ever for a general election in the county’s history, but still lower than the record 8,311 absentee-by-mail ballots cast during the June 2 primary.

By comparison, a total of 1,535 absentee mail-in votes were cast in the 2016 general election out of the 1,666 requested.

Bartholomew County Clerk Jay Phelps said he anticipates being able to release the absentee-by-mail and early in-person voting results by 7 p.m. on Election Night.

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Phelps said he expects to start seeing a “steady flow” of in-person Election Day results from vote centers starting at 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. as long as there are no major lines when polls close on Election Day.

Phelps expects to have all the votes tallied between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Election Night.

That means voters can expect to at least know the outcomes of the Bartholomew County Council races, the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. School Board races and the Indiana State House District 59 race just hours after the polls close, Phelps said.

“I’m very confident and I’m very pleased that we won’t have to be counting votes well into the night and I’m sure there’s some relief for the candidates here locally as well,” he said. “At this point in time, these absentee results could be 60%, 70% of the overall turnout. So these are going to be a big deal. They’re going to be very telling and tell the story of how the entire election is probably going to go.”

Many states, including Indiana, are seeing an influx in the number of voters requesting absentee-by-mail ballots.

More than 1 million Hoosiers have requested an absentee ballot or voted early in the Nov. 3 presidential election, the Indiana Secretary of State’s Office said on Thursday.

With 12 days remaining before the Nov. 3 election, 553,270 absentee by-mail ballots have been requested across the state, and 477,217 voters have voted at an early voting location, with a total of 1,042,319 ballots requested or submitted, according to state figures.

The influx, officials said, is likely being fueled by the coronavirus pandemic, which has led many Americans to consider voting absentee through the mail instead of heading to in-person polling places. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends mailing in ballots as a way to vote without risking exposure to the virus at the polls.

The increased volume of absentee ballots means that final election results may not be immediately available on Election Night, said Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson in a statement.

“Hoosiers are eager to vote and are voting early in record numbers to make sure their voice is heard,” Lawson said. “Election officials across Indiana have worked tirelessly to make sure each voter is safe and secure, and I’m pleased to see this level of turnout heading into Election Day.”

Initially, local election officials were anticipating a record 12,000 to 13,000 voters to request absentee-by-mail ballots for the general election, but concerns over the U.S. Postal Service and absentee-by-mail voting process, as well as the historic turnout for early in-person voting may have impacted the number of requests, Phelps said.

Seven bipartisan teams in Bartholomew County — each with one Republican and one Democrat — will start counting the absentee ballots at 6 a.m. on Election Day, Phelps said.

Local election officials anticipate having the absentee-by-mail ballots by early afternoon on Election Day. It took Phelps and five bipartisan teams roughly 12 hours this past primary election day to process and count all 8,311 mail-in ballots.

As of Thursday, 5,748 voters in Bartholomew County had cast their ballots through the mail, or nearly 81% of all ballots requested.

Phelps is advising voters to return their absentee ballots as soon as possible to make sure election officials receive them by the noon deadline on Election Day.

Absentee-by-mail ballots can be returned in person at the Bartholomew County Courthouse, 234 Washington St.

“Do not wait to send that ballot in toward the end of the month because we don’t know if it will get to us on time,” Phelps said.