Boxes of ballots

Boxes of returned absentee ballots are seen June 1 in Rousseau Centre in Fort Wayne. No blanket allowance for voting absentee because of COVD-19 is available for the general election as it was in the primary.

Deadlines to get ready and registered for the upcoming November presidential election are rapidly approaching, and local election officials are preparing as best they can for counting votes in the challenging atmosphere of a global pandemic.

The deadline to get registered is Monday, Oct. 5, according to Allen County Director of Elections Beth Dlug. Any material mailed to the elections office needs to be postmarked by that date, she added.

And voters should be prepared for polling location changes, she said.

“Polling places are changing,” she said. “We originally planned to have 116 polling locations for the November election, but due to health concerns, we’ve lowered that to 75.

“That’s due to instructions from the Allen County Board of Health, in order to reduce the number of voters and poll workers at each location,” and to keep people safe and properly distanced, Dlug said.

Dlug’s advice to voters: Make sure you positively know where your polling place is before leaving home on Election Day, which is Tuesday, Nov. 3 this year.

To make sure you know the correct polling spot, voters can either call the county elections office at 260-449-7154, or check online at www.allencountyvoters.info or www.indianavoters.com, according to Dlug.

And just counting this year’s votes during the COVID-19 pandemic is presenting more than its share of challenges, Dlug said.

Her office has had to shift its operations from the Rousseau Center — at 1 E. Main St. — to the Expo Center at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum to give election workers enough space to keep socially distanced while completing their critical work.

She said her office already has received 10,000 requests for mail-in ballots, a jump she pins on folks worried about going out during the pandemic.

She noted that at this point, her office is not planning any additional security checks on voters’ mail-in ballots, just normal checking of the signature on the ballot against the voter’s signature on record.

“At this point, we don’t anticipate doing anything different,” Dlug said of her office’s security authorizations. “We check the signature against the signature on record, and each ballot is bar-coded, so we can ensure that it’s valid.”

Dlug said in the very rare case that a signature varies from the one on record, the vote becomes what she called an “invalid ballot” and is discarded.

The Allen County Election Office also worked out of the Coliseum during the 2020 primary election in June, using about 70 workers to count the county’s ballots. The office usually has 10 to 15 people doing that job.

Primary results were delayed by about a day because of the volume of the work. Dlug anticipates a similar scenario come November.

“We counted 38,000 votes in two and a half days for the primary,” Dlug said. “So it could be another day and a half (after Election Day) for the general election.”

Dlug noted that while it would be nice to get a head-start on the laborious tabulation work, state law doesn’t allow them to do so.

“We can’t start counting until Election Day,” she said. “So we can’t do anything ahead of time. Just opening and counting that many ballots, it’s really a time-consuming process.”

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