County OKs voting machines ahead of postponed primary

This year’s primary election, which was postponed last month due to coronavirus concerns, will look different. Testing the voting equipment did, too.

Donning face masks, election officials sat spaced out in the Voter Registration office in the lower level of the Johnson County courthouse discussing the upcoming primary, when Democrat and Republican voters have choices to make at the state and federal levels, including choosing their party’s presidential candidate. Republicans also have decisions to make in two local races, Johnson County Council at-large and Johnson County Commissioner, District 1.

On the phone, a representative from MicroVote, the election vendor county officials hired last year to manage and provide equipment for this year’s elections, walked them through the process of testing the equipment.

Sixteen voting machines, the new VVPAT (Voter-verified paper audit trail) — which will only be used during early voting as a trial — and one of two readers, used to count ballots on Election Day, all checked out.

[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]

Click here to purchase photos from this gallery

The Election Board on Friday unanimously OK’d the machines for the spring election, which it is required by state law to do before every election after 3.5 hours of testing.

The law requires counties to test 5% of the machines they will use in an upcoming election. Election officials on Friday said they’re not sure yet how many machines they will need, but more than 300 will be available to use.

As part of Friday’s test, Trena McLaughlin, county clerk; Diane Lindley, the Democratic member of the election board; and Phil Barrow, a Republican member of the election board, cast sample ballots on three or four machines each to make sure there were no errors. Kevin Service, a Democrat, and Marie Smith, a Republican, helped.

Each tester was assigned a different station, and no one else touched that station, one of many changes made to the public test as a precaution. Those changes were necessary due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The public was welcome to attend, but no one did.

They also tested eight of the precincts that have ballots in the primary, some of which included straight-party voting to make sure the votes cast matched what was on the tally sheet at the end.

It took each tester about three minutes to submit each ballot, which is about how long it should take a voter to vote once they reach the booth during early voting or on Election Day.

This year’s primary election was postponed about a month — 28 days.

Even if the state’s stay-at-home order is lifted by time early voting kicks off May 26, voters will be asked to wear masks at the polls, hand sanitizer will be available at check-in and near the voting machines, and those in line will be asked to keep at least 6 feet of distance, something the county will have extra poll workers on board to make sure of, McLaughlin said.

Early voting has been limited to the week leading up to Election Day on June 2, with 10 vote centers open rather than the 22 initially planned for, she said.

All 10 have confirmed that they will be open on Election Day, even if they haven’t reopened for business by that point, McLaughlin said.

Election officials continue to encourage voting by mail, and so far, that seems to be the method of choice. About 3,000 voters had requested absentee ballots by Friday, and nearly 1,200 had already returned them, McLaughlin said. To compare, 493 voters cast absentee ballots during the 2018 primary, and 1,028 during the 2016 presidential primary.

And voters still have about four weeks to vote by mail. Completed applications are due by May 21. All absentee ballots will be counted on Election Day.

A staff member at Voter Registration prepared to mail out several more absentee ballots Friday, sealing each, then spraying the envelope with Lysol.

They’ve also ramped up efforts to get absentee ballots to voters at the county’s senior care facilities. Usually, voter registration staff would travel to those facilities ahead of the election to allow residents to vote. But that’s not an option right now.

“Otterbein, for example, they obviously told us no a while ago,” McLaughlin said.

Senior care facilities are locked down. No one except staff is allowed in the buildings. At Otterbein, a COVID-19 outbreak has occurred, killing 10 residents and infecting at least 48 people.

It is unclear what effect the ongoing pandemic will have on voter turnout, which during the last presidential primary reached 40%.

“You know, I don’t know. I’m hoping all of these mail-in ballots that are coming in is a good sign, but we’ll just have to wait and see,” McLaughlin said.

Typically, poll workers must go through in-person training before every election. This year, that training will likely look different as well. Election officials are considering making a how-to video that poll workers could watch at home. But what training looks like will ultimately be up to MicroVote, which does the training but is currently working entirely remotely, McLaughlin said.

“Everything is new territory,” Barrow said.

Voting fraud and election tampering are issues of national concern, making the public tests an important step in the election process. But these tests aren’t new. It’s something that’s been done before every election for several years.

The goal of the public test is to make sure the machines work, catch any invalid entries and make sure the printouts match what was entered into each ballot on the machines. The test ballots will not be counted in the election, and MicroVote representatives cleared the system at the end of the public test. The machines that were used during the test on Friday are disqualified from being used during this election.

The county’s certification will be sent to the Secretary of State’s Office for further certification.

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”If you go” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Here is a look at when and where you can cast your ballot early:

Johnson County courthouse, 5 E. Jefferson St., Franklin

8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, starting May 26;

8 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 30;

8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. June 1.

Greenwood Public Library, 310 S. Meridian St., Greenwood (east door)

10 a.m. to 7 p.m. May 28-29

8 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 30.

White River Public Library, 1664 Library Blvd., Greenwood

10 a.m. to 7 p.m. May 28-29

8 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 30.

[sc:pullout-text-end][sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”How to vote by mail” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Here is a look at directions to obtain an absentee ballot:

Visit, hover over the “Community” tab at the top and select “Voter Registration.” Under 2020 Primary Election Info, select 2020 Absentee Request Form.

Contact the Voter Registration office at 317-346-4466 for an application to be mailed.

Completed applications can be sent by email to [email protected], by fax to 317-736-3798, or by mail to Voter Registration, P.O. Box 451, Franklin, IN 46131.

Completed applications must be received by May 21.