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How to have an election during COVID-19: Indiana ships PPE to begin process

Indiana officials have started sending protective supplies to county election offices ahead of the start of in-person voting for the primary election that was delayed until June 2 because of the coronavirus outbreak

In this Nov. 5, 2018 file photo, voters packed the Vigo County Annex in Terre Haute, Ind., during the final day of early voting. Many of Indiana’s voters have shifted over the past decade to casting ballots days or weeks ahead of Election Day rather than standing in line at their neighborhood polling site on that day. The coronavirus outbreak is causing what could become an even bigger shift toward mail-in ballots for Indiana’s upcoming primary election that’s been delayed until June 2, 2020.
Austen Leake/Tribune-Star via AP

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana officials have started shipping protective supplies to county election offices ahead of the start of in-person voting for the primary election that was delayed until June 2 because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Forty-two more Indiana residents have died from coronavirus illnesses, pushing the state’s pandemic death toll from confirmed or presumed cases of COVID-19 to nearly 1,700, health officials said Friday.

Primary preparations

Federal funding has been used to buy supplies, including 200,000 face masks, 25,000 face shields, 5,000 gallons of hand sanitizer and 4,000 gallons of disinfectant cleaner for voting machines, Secretary of State Connie Lawson said Friday.

Shipments began this week and will continue next week to Indiana’s 92 counties, which are scheduled to begin early in-person voting on May 26 and have polling sites open on June 2. That protective equipment is meant for election staffers and won’t be provided to voters, Lawson said.

Election officials and state political leaders are encouraging mail-in voting as a way to protect poll workers and voters from possible COVID-19 exposure since deciding in late March to delay the primary by four weeks.

Voters face a Thursday deadline for requesting a mail-in ballot. The state has established an online ballot application available at Indianavoters.com, or application forms can be requested from county election offices. Those ballots must be received by county election offices by noon on June 2.

Lawson said that through Thursday about 330,000 mail-in ballots had already been cast — more than six times the total mail-in ballots submitted for the 2016 primary.

“Voting absentee by mail is safe and secure,” Lawson said. “It’s important to remember this isn’t a new process, it’s just an expansion of something that clerks do every election cycle. As we weather the COVID-19 storm, its the smartest way to vote.”’

Gov. Eric Holcomb agreed that voting by mail was the “smartest thing,” but said he planned to vote in person either early or on primary day.

“As long as we have the means to safely vote in person, I’m one of those people who subscribes to ‘I’m going to vote in person,’” Holcomb said.

Indiana has no challenged races for statewide elected offices in this year’s primary, although multiple candidates are seeking nominations for the congressional seats being given up by Democratic Rep. Pete Visclosky and Republican Rep. Susan Brooks. Many state legislative seats and county offices are also on the primary ballot.

More virus deaths

Most of the newly confirmed COVID-19 deaths reported by the Indiana State Department of Health occurred between Tuesday and Thursday, according to data posted by the agency.

Indiana has now recorded 1,550 confirmed deaths from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, along with 141 deaths considered coronavirus-related by doctors but without confirmation of the illness from test results.

Together, those deaths boost Indiana’s confirmed and probable deaths from the virus to 1,691 statewide.

Additional testing is becoming available around Indiana, with a state contractor opening 50 testing locations. The tests are available to those with symptoms of the respiratory illness, those in close contact with someone infected and people with high-risk health conditions.

The state health department said it is holding drive-through testing clinics through Sunday in Bluffton and Gary in northern Indiana, the western Indiana city of Sullivan and in Madison in southern Indiana. The state agency’s full list of testing sites around the state can be found at www.coronavirus.in.gov.