On Tuesday at noon, at the the fourth continuation of a meeting that was initially convened on April 2, Monroe County’s election board approved the use of seven in-person polling sites for the June 2 primary election.
At Tuesday’s meeting, one of the sites was still not nailed down with 100-percent certainty.
Initial indications were positive from the City Church for All Nations that the facility could be used for the election, but final word was still pending, according to election supervisor Karen Wheeler. The church is the backup plan to University Elementary School, which has a construction project precluding its use. [Updated April 29, 2020 at 3:17 p.m. Election board member Carolyn VandeWiele told The Square Beacon that the church has agreed to allow its facility to be used for the June 2 primary.]
The board’s Tuesday decision on polling sites, taken at a Zoom videoconference session, gave a formal stamp of approval to a preliminary decision that had, for six of the polling sites, been made the day before.
Monday’s green light was given so that the polling sites could be included in a mass mailing to all registered voters in the county, which will include an application for a ballot to vote absentee, that is to say by mail.
No-excuse absentee voting was made possible for the June 2 primary by an order of the state’s election commission.
The vote-by-mail option is the one being heavily promoted by the election board, to reduce the chance of spreading the COVID-19 virus. “Vote by mail for safety and convenience,” was some wording for the mailing suggested at Monday’s meeting by Hal Turner, who’s chair of the election board.
“What effect does a deadly virus have on voting? We’re about to find out,” Turner said on Monday.
The polling sites for June 2 are: Arlington Heights Elementary School; Edgewood High School; Southside Christian Church; Sherwood Oaks Christian Church; Bloomington’s city hall; City Church for All Nations (pending church approval); and Grandview Elementary.
Since last week’s provisional consideration of polling sites, the number of locations increased from four to seven. Another difference was the inclusion into the mix of two Monroe County Community School Corporation (MCCSC) buildings.
The decision Monday was made without explicit permission from MCCSC to use three of its buildings as polling sites. Election supervisor Karen Wheeler told the board on Monday she had not heard back from MCCSC with a definitive yes.
An explicit agreement to let the board use its buildings for elections, it was something the election board wanted to have before taking an official vote on Tuesday—even though the board has the right to use the buildings under state law. That’s something the state election election commission’s April order includes as a kind of reminder:
The Commission advises each county executive and county election board that under IC 3-11-8-4 all school buildings, fire stations and other public buildings shall be made available to a county to be designated as a polling location under IC3-11-8 or vote center location under IC 3-11-18.1 for the June 2, 2020 election.
About the board’s reluctance to take a formal vote, and instead to just have staff proceed with the mailing, member Carolyn VandeWiele said, “We don’t want to tick anybody off.” Turner said, “We going to assume the answer is yes, I think we have to. And if it’s not yes, we’ll change the answer to yes—we have no choice, we have to go forward.”
As it turned out, the answer was yes for two of the schools, but not University Elementary. That was due to a construction project at the school, not a lack of willingness by the MCCSC, according to Wheeler.
In contrast to schools, churches can’t be tapped as polling sites by the election board, unless permission is granted.
The decision to expand the number of in-person polling sites from four to seven was based on advice from Bob White of B&L IT Services, who manages the county’s voting equipment. He analyzed the situation from the perspective of “voter throughput.”
White ball-parked a possible number of mail-in voters at 50,000, with 20,000 voting in person, either through early voting or on Election day. The maximum number of in-person early voters that Election Central had ever processed was 1,300, he said.
For each of the the seven days of early voting that are allowed, he figured the maximum throughput at Election Central, given the additional physical distancing requirements, might be around 1,000 voters. That would mean Election Day polling sites would need to accommodate around 13,000 voters.
So White advocated for more than the four locations that the board had provisionally settled on. He also recommended choosing larger facilities to allow for more throughput while maintaining physical distancing requirements. As one example, he recommended using Bloomington’s city hall, with its 4,100 square feet instead of Free Methodist Church, which is a 2,100-square-foot-facility.
White said there’d be a maximum of around 16–20 voters at a facility at a time, based on an estimated time of at least six minutes. Keeping voters at least six feet apart means not using four-station “Franklin Booths.”
White also suggested reducing the number of chairs, making them available only for those who need them, so that they don’t have to be disinfected between voters. Tables could be put on PVC-pipe risers so that people could use them as a standing desk, White suggested.
White estimated the number of election workers at each of the seven sites at 16, including three people dedicated to ongoing disinfection throughout the day.
On Monday, election board members responded to questions about the lack of Community Access Television Services (CATS) coverage of their in-person continuation of their meeting on April 23 as well as on Monday.
Turner said CATS had chosen not to cover it. “We didn’t exclude CATS, … they were a part of the initial plan, but they chose not to participate,” he said. An email message sent out on April 13 by election supervisor Karen Wheeler about the April 23 continuation of the meeting stated, “At this point, we do not expect any public or CATS to attend due to safety issues.”
On Monday, election board members also responded to a question about the reason they opted for an in-person meeting instead of convening by Zoom video conference, as they had for previous sessions. Carolyn VandeWiele, said it was because board members needed to be in the same room to look at the same document, which they were word-smithing. It’s hard to make revisions to documents on Zoom, Turner added.
Tuesday’s meeting was not adjourned, but rather only recessed so that it could be called back to order without the two-day noticing requirement for a new meeting. That’s in case a decision needed to be made about finding a polling location to substitute for City Church.
Before recessing, board members talked through some issues involved in recruitment of poll workers. Part of the message the prospective workers will hear involves the protections they’ll have to protect them from COVID-19 infection. The Secretary of State’s office has informed Monroe County that its share of the $7.5 million in federal funding for election safety would include: 3,000 masks; 1,750 pairs of gloves, 30 gallons of sanitizer; 31 gallons of surface cleaners; and 1,250 microfiber towels.
At the April 20 election board session, some hope had been voiced that a scan-as-you-go approach would be allowed for processing absentee ballots for the June 2 primary, even though it would violate the so-called “dead voter law.” Under the dead voter law, an absentee ballot has to be checked on Election Day to make sure the voter has not died between the time they cast their ballot and Election Day. The scan-as-you-go approach would flout that law.
Election board member Carolyn VandeWiele said on April 20 that she did not like the dead voter law, but wanted to hear from the county’s legal team before adopting scan-as-you-go. The election division attorney to whom The Square Beacon spoke confirmed that scan-as-you-go is not allowed under the dead voter law, and that neither of the two recent orders by the state’s election commission had changed that.
At a subsequent session, VandeWiele said no attorney she’d talked to thought scan-as-you-go would be a good idea for the June 2 primary. She said that it could mean a delay in results, compared to the customary same-night reporting. It’s more important to get make sure the results are accurate, as opposed to fast, VandeWiele said.
Information on all aspects of voting is maintained on Monroe County’s Election Central website.
A new online-only option for requesting an absentee ballot was rolled out Tuesday by the Indiana Secretary of State’s office. Monroe County voters can use that option to request a ballot, without waiting for the mailing that they’ll receive from the Monroe County election board in the next week or so.
Photos: Monday, April 27, 2020 at Election Central