Election board adds 5 more hours for early voting in Monroe County: “Our voters need to vote.”

The line at early voting in Monroe County, Indiana at Election Central (7th and Madison) on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

The time for early in-person voting in Monroe County has been extended on Thursday and Friday (Oct. 29, 30) by one extra hour—until 7 p.m. Early voting on those days will start the same time as previously scheduled, which is 8 a.m.

On Saturday (Oct. 31), an hour has been added to the start of the day and two hours tacked on to the end, to make for a 10-hour day, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The county has one in-person early voting site, at 7th and Madison streets, aka Election Central, in downtown Bloomington.

The extra time was added by the three-member county election board in a unanimous vote taken at its Monday morning meeting.

The board was reacting to the long lines that have persisted at the one early voting site in the county, since early voting started three weeks ago.

On Saturday (Oct. 24), the line started off wrapped around the whole block from 7th and Madison streets, south to 6th Street, west on 6th to Rogers Street, north on Rogers to 7th, and back to Madison. The waiting time to vote has in some cases approached two hours and has consistently ranged between an hour to an hour and a half.

The election board is made up of Carolyn VandeWiele, the Democratic Party’s representative, Hal Turner, the Republican Party’s representative, and the county clerk, who is Nicole Browne, a Democrat.

Based on the throughput at Election Central in the first three weeks of early voting, the five additional voting hours will give about 500 more people the chance to vote early in Monroe County. So far about 15,000 people have voted early in person.

VandeWiele said it was not possible to increase the number of people going through per hour. So the alternative is to extend hours, she said.

About extended hours, election board chair Hal Turner said, “I’m 100 percent for that.” The current rate of throughput, which is around 100 voters an hour, takes a huge concerted effort by everybody at Election Central, Turner said. If workers are willing to sign up for it, Turner said, “I think we should get all the extra hours we can possibly do between now and [Election Day].”

County clerk Nicole Browne was texting to election staff and poll workers during the board’s meeting to gauge response to the idea of working longer hours. The idea of Sunday hours was met with, “Please, no Sunday!” Browne reported.

Once the board appeared to have settled on some non-Sunday extended hours, Browne told board members she was sending a text message to poll workers: “OK, so I am making the ask right now.”

VandeWiele responded: “It’s not really an ‘ask’, Nicole. It’s our decision as to whether or not we want to do this.” VandeWiele added, “I mean, I don’t want to tick off the people that work for us, either.”

VandeWiele wrapped by saying, “But the idea is that our voters need to vote. And I think we need to make at least some extended hours happen.”

Browne replied, “I understand what you’re saying. Sometimes it’s all about the presentation, though, Miss Carolyn!”

VandeWiele agreed with the point about the right pitch to poll workers, but underscored the basic point: “I think we need to figure out a way of making this happen, if the election board thinks that it’s valid, and it sounds like most of us do.”

About finding the money to pay poll workers for the extra time, VandeWiele said, “I have been assured by at least one member of the board of commissioners and one member of the county council, that the money is there for us to do that if we want to add those hours.”

Voting times for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (Oct. 26, 27, 28) will remain from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Next Monday (Nov. 2), the time to vote early in person goes from 8 a.m. to noon.