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Thursday, January 14, 2021

Marion County clerk: ‘Thousands’ of absentee ballots could go uncounted

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In a letter to the Indiana secretary of state, Marion County Clerk Myla Eldridge expressed concern that many voters won’t have had enough time to mail their absentee ballots back to election board in time to be counted for the June primary.

The letter, provided by the Marion County Clerk’s Office, acknowledges some of the frustrations seen on social media from people who say they submitted an application for an absentee ballot weeks ago but haven’t gotten a ballot yet.

Russell Hollis, deputy director of the county clerk’s office, said in an email voters are encouraged to hand deliver their ballots at an early voting location or on election day at a vote center.

The office received more than 123,000 absentee ballot applications by the May 21 deadline, according to the letter, which is 20 times more than for the 2016 primary.

The office processed 99.5% of those applications. A small number of applications contained errors, Hollis said.

In the letter, dated May 28, Eldridge referenced earlier correspondence with the secretary of state, Connie Lawson, in which she outlined concerns about the “safety and efficacy” of a wide-ranging vote-by-mail push alongside in-person voting.

Eldridge reiterated she supports voting by mail in the primary but said her office has had to divert “precious resources” to securing voting locations and poll workers for in-person voting.

The county has been operating three early voting locations and will have 22 vote centers on Election Day, which is June 2.

“I can now report that these and other concerns are being realized in substantial ways that not only have strained our resources to the breaking point, but also threaten to disappoint thousands of voters whose mail-in absentee ballots might not be counted under Indiana law,” Eldridge wrote in the letter.

Staff has also been limited, Eldridge said, because of COVID-19. The office had just 10 staff members to process applications at the beginning of the application period but finished with more than 100.

Eldridge said there has also been “significant delays” with the U.S. Postal Service in mailing ballots, which is why some voters have been waiting weeks to get their ballot.

“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,” Eldridge wrote.

Eldridge said it is not too late for the Indiana Election Commission to extend the deadline for the county to receive absentee ballots, which is currently noon June 2.

Hollis said the Marion County Clerk’s Office has not received a response from Lawson.

The Recorder has reached out to the secretary of state’s office for comment.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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