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The Howard County Government Center, 120 W. Mulberry St., is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. for in-person early voting shown here on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020. Voting will continue on business days through the general election. Here, Roger Stewart sprays and wipes the booths.

Howard and Miami counties are seeing strong early voter turnout.

Nearly 10,000 voters in Howard County have already cast an absentee ballot – either in-person or mailed-in – just two weeks into early voting.

As of Wednesday, the county has accepted 5,348 mail-in ballot applications and received 3,833 of those back. In 2016, the county saw only 1,800 mail-in ballots. This year’s high number can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic and an increased focus and awareness campaign on mail-in voting.

In-person at the Howard County Government Center has been steady as well with 4,369 people voting in-person as of Wednesday. Early in-person voting began on Oct. 6 and continues until Nov. 2.

It’s an early voter turnout that has astonished county election board members and Howard County Clerk Debbie Stewart.

“The one thing we say about Trump and Biden is they got the vote out,” Phil Thurston, Howard County Election Board member, said.

Stewart said she’s forecasting a very high turnout in Howard County.

“We’ll talk in the office and people will ask me ‘So Debbie, what do you think the turnout will be?’” Stewart said. “I tell them I’m thinking 65 to 70%, but after seeing these numbers, I think it’s going to be possibly 75% turnout.”

Miami County is seeing strong early voting numbers too.

Miami County Clerk Sherry Raber said more than 6% of all registered voters have voted so far. As of Thursday, Miami County has received about 1,250 mail-in ballot applications and have gotten back about 650 of those.

That’s currently more than double what the county saw in the 2016 General Election, but less than the 2020 spring primary. However, that could change because the deadline to request a mail-in ballot is Oct. 22.

Raber said early, in-person voting in Miami County was also busy with lines out the door for the first couple of days. Since then, it’s dropped off but has remained steady, she said.

“We were happy with that,” she said. “We’ve been busy, and that’s a good thing.”

CHANGE OF MIND

One peculiar thing both clerks’ offices are experiencing are voters who received a mail-in ballot but now have changed their mind and say they want to vote in person.

Raber said Miami County is seeing at least two people a day make that request.

“That’s saying a lot for a small county,” she said.

Such requests are not a regular occurrence in Howard County, Stewart said, but her office has dealt with it on a semi-regular basis, mostly from people who have lost or thrown away their mail-in ballot or have forgotten they requested one.

Voters can’t legally change from mail-in to voting in person unless their mail-in ballot is “lost, spoiled or destroyed” in some way. A ballot is “spoiled” if the voter has made a mistake when filling out the ballots, such as choosing a candidate they didn’t intend to vote for.

If one’s ballot is lost, spoiled or destroyed, though, voters must fill out an ABS-5 form, which is available through the clerks’ offices. They must complete it and turn it into the clerks’ office. Then, they may vote in-person.

Raber said people who have decided they want to vote in person have not said why, though she suspects some may have been confused after state political parties mailed out unsolicited absentee ballot applications to some voters.

“That confused the heck out of people,” she said. “That makes people think, ‘Oh, this could be rigged or could go badly.’ If neither party would have done that, it would have helped tremendously.”

Mail-in voting has become politicized this year after President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized it as being more prone to voter fraud than in-person voting.

Raber said people should trust mail-in voting because the voting systems and technology that are in place make sure people’s votes are counted and that people don’t vote twice.

“I know it happens, but it is super rare for someone to be able to vote twice,” she said. “There are so many security steps in place that it just doesn’t happen. People don’t have a lot of trust in that, but if you come and see the technology and equipment we have, people need to have a little more faith, because it’s harder than it seems to cheat.”

Tyler Juranovich can be reached at 765-454-8577, by email at tyler.juranovich@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at @tylerjuranovich

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Carson Gerber is a reporter for the Kokomo Tribune and can be reached at 765-854-6739, carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @carsongerber1.

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