The tally of early voters in Monroe County on Friday was 1,199. That was the fourth day in a row that set a new daily high.
Early voting started last week on Tuesday (Oct. 6). Over the first nine days, 8,954 ballots have been cast. That’s an average of just a smidgen under 1,000 a day, or 100 an hour.
At that same pace, the 208 hours of early voting that are scheduled before the Nov. 3 election would yield a bit under 21,000 early-voted ballots.
Added to the roughly 13,000 mail-in absentee ballots that have been requested would make around 34,000 total early votes this year, which is a few thousand more than the 31,000 in 2016 who voted early in person or absentee by mail.
Election Central, in the old Johnson Hardware Building at 7th and Madison streets in downtown Bloomington, is the only early voting location in the county. Lines have extended down Madison to 6th Street, out 6th Street to Rogers Street and halfway back to Madison.
The advice from those at the head of the line, to those who were arriving to head to the end of the queue, was to head west on 7th, not south down Madison, because that would make for a shorter walk.
Reports of waiting times ranged from around an hour to as long as an hour and a half.
Those times are not as long as some reported in other parts of the country, but that has not made some Monroe County voters feel any better about waiting an hour in line. Some people have given up and made plans to try again on a different day.
Some observers have reported that less busy times are from 1:30 to 2 p.m. and from 5:30 to 6 p.m.
Voters in line at 6 p.m. are still allowed to vote.
The advice from the state’s election division to county clerks on managing the line at day’s end is to write down the names, mark the hands of those in line, or designate a staff person to wait at the end of the line. In Monroe County, the strategy has been for election supervisor Karen Wheeler to mind the end of the queue.
Based on discussions at election board meetings leading up to early voting, the decision not to try to establish more than one early voting location was based on several factors. Among them were the challenge in recruiting workers, cost, and the effort it takes to ensure ballot security.
At the election board’s meeting on Tuesday, a focus of discussion was accessibility. Board members had received a report of a woman who brought her elderly mother in to vote, got frustrated by the sight of the long line, and decided to leave without voting.
Board of election members wished she had come to the front of the line and asked—she would have been allowed to go ahead of others in line.
The basic approach the board wants to take is not to assume anybody wants to go to the head of the line, because they’re elderly or use a wheelchair or a walker. But if someone goes to the head of the line and asks, they’ll be accommodated.
Monroe County clerk Nicole Browne described how she approaches the issue when she greets voters in line to ask them if they have questions or need anything. “I had a sweet little old man who was there with his walker. And when I asked him how he was doing, and if he was OK, he said, ‘I’m proud to do my part and stand in line, because that’s what our servicemen and women fought for.’ And he was not asking to go to the head of the line,” Browne said.
Browne offered a contrasting anecdote: “I also had a woman who told me she had a heart attack a few weeks before and she couldn’t stand in the line. I said, ‘Ma’am, I would be honored to walk you to the front of the line, so that you could vote.’ And the gentleman who was next to go in said, ‘By all means, step in front of me.’”
Another current point of emphasis for the clerk’s office relates to the choice between voting early in person and using a mail-in absentee ballot. Mail-in absentee ballots can be hand-delivered to Election Central—there is no drop box. But people who have been issued a mail-in absentee ballot can’t just change their minds and vote early in person.
There’s a form for that. And without going through the ABS-5 form process—which is for mail-in absentee ballots that are lost, spoiled or defective—it’s not possible for someone to vote early in person, if they’ve been issued a mail-in absentee ballot.
On Election Day, but not on early in-person voting days, it’s possible for someone to just surrender their mail-in absentee ballot and vote in person.
The schedule of remaining early in-person voting days is posted on the Election Central website.