A CLEAN START: With sanitation guidelines in place at polls, voters begin to queue up

Poll worker Seth Graber sanitizes pens used by voters to fill in their ballots. Workers armed with wipes and disinfectant will be a fixture at the polls all the way through Election Day. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

HANCOCK COUNTY — As in-person early voting in the primary gets into full swing, the small number of polling places available to Hancock County voters seems equipped to meet their needs. A steady but slow trickle of voters arrived at the four sites on the first day the polls were open, each of which was taking precautions to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Sharon McClarnon, a supervisor at the vote center at the Hancock County Courthouse Annex, said the handful of voters coming in and out of the location was easily managed despite the extra steps poll workers are taking to keep voters safe.

“It’s been steady since we opened,” McClarnon said. “More than I thought would show up.”

According to Hancock County Clerk Lisa Lofgreen, 505 people had cast ballots through midafternoon on Wednesday, May 27.

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Officials at polling places marked the ground outside their buildings with lines six feet apart to encourage social distancing. But so far, long lines had not accumulated.

McClarnon said judging voter turnout in this election would be difficult, since the circumstances were so different.

“There’s no comparison with this COVID stuff,” McClarnon said. “We didn’t know whether we were going to sit and twiddle our thumbs over here and or whether we’d have something to do.”

Before the polls opened, workers received extensive training in COVID-19 safety and how to sanitize equipment and enforce social distancing.

When entering the annex and other polling places to cast a vote, voters who do not have masks are being offered one by poll workers. Their signatures are checked by a poll worker behind a clear plastic barrier on a tablet device that is sanitized between each use. Then, voters receive a paper ballot and a clean pen to fill out at stations placed a safe distance away from one another.

After voting, they return their ballots to another worker behind a plastic shield and return their pens to be sanitized.

The Election Office brought some younger volunteers on board to help ensure equipment was sanitized. Gavin Hudson, a 17-year-old student at Greenfield Central High School, was one of them. He said he was instructed to use plenty of cleaning fluid — “more than you think is necessary” — to wipe down ballot boxes and other equipment.

“We’re sanitizing everything, from the pens to the boxes to the tables. It’s actually been mildly entertaining, because there’s enough people coming in to keep busy,” Gavin said.

McClarnon said she was satisfied with how the procedure was going.

“I think it’s quite safe,” McClarnon said. “I’d stay two-thirds of our voters are wearing masks. But some of the ones that are the frailest-looking are the ones that don’t wear masks.”

Lofgreen said the first day of voting went smoothly and no problems were reported with voters respecting social distancing guidelines.

“We have received very good reports about the young people we have working as sanitizers,” Lofgreen said.

Voters who came out said they preferred the option of voting in person over mailing in ballots; some said they feared voting by mail could lead to fraud. That claim has been advanced by President Donald Trump, though mail-in voting has been endorsed widely by election officials.

The Associated Press reported that, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, the fraud risk of mail-in voting is extremely low. None of the five states that predominantly use mail-in voting have seen issues with voter fraud or other complications.

Lofgreen said the Hancock County election office had received 3,398 mail-in ballots as of Wednesday afternoon.

Those who opted for in-person voting, though, said they were satisfied it was a safe option.

“I thought it went very smooth,” voter Cheryl Denny said.

Poll workers at the Sugar Creek branch of the Hancock County Library in New Palestine said they had about 12 voters come in during the first hour of voting on Tuesday. Elizabeth Riley, an election supervisor at the location, said the small numbers were likely due to both COVID-19 concerns and road closures in the area.

“We really didn’t know what to expect. I know they’ve gotten a lot of absentee ballots with the virus and everything, and with the road closed out here as well,” Riley said. (U.S. 52 is closed for roadwork west of Mt. Comfort Road, meaning many people trying to get the library, 5731 W. U.S. 52, will need to find another route to get there.)

Riley said of the voters who were coming in, almost all were wearing masks and were observing social distancing. If the crowds do get bigger, she said, there were enough poll workers on hand to be able to enforce the rules.

“We have a lot of different things that we haven’t normally had in the past, or even had to worry about,” Riley said.

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Here is the list of polling places and their hours. These also will be the only vote centers open on Election Day next Tuesday, June 2:

–Hancock County Courthouse Annex, 111 American Legion Place, Commissioner’s Courtroom, first floor: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. today (Thursday, May 28) and Friday, May 29. Also, noon to 7 p.m. Saturday, May 30, and Sunday, May 31. Also, 8 a.m. to noon Monday, June 1.

–Buck Creek Township Fire Department, 5809 W. Airport Blvd., Mt. Comfort: 2 to 7 p.m. today and Friday. Also, noon to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Hancock County Public Library main branch, 900 W. McKenzie Road, Greenfield: 2 to 7 p.m. today and Friday. Also, noon to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Hancock County Public Library, Sugar Creek Branch, 5731 W. U.S. 52, New Palestine: 2 to 7 p.m. today and Friday. Also, noon to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

All polling places will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Election Day, June 2.

Personal protective equipment will be provided to all poll workers. Voters are asked to bring their own PPE and to consider bringing their own pens to fill out a ballot or operate an electronic voting machine.

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The Hancock County Election Office received a number of mail-in ballot applications well after the May 21 deadline. Those voters will not receive mail-in ballots. County Clerk Lisa Lofgreen says officials will notify by phone any voter whose application was received past the deadline that they should plan to vote in person, but only if they listed a telephone number on their application or if their phone number is in the Statewide Voter Registration System. Not every voter’s phone number, however, is in this database.

If voters submitted their applications but have not received their ballots in the mail, they should contact the election office to verify the status of their application and/or ballot. That phone number is 317-477-1109.