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There’s less than a week to go in one of the most unusual elections in history, where precincts are different, rules have been changed and voting has been underway for a month. Hancock County Clerk Trina Ogle said she expects possibly record turnout and that some of the changes might become permanent.
Although Election Day is on Tuesday, November 3, Ogle said a third of the registered voters in Hancock County have already voted by mail or in early, in-person voting, which is available through November 2.
“We’ve already had a third of the registered voters vote early either by mail or in person,” Ogle said. “I think we’re up to about 1,500 voting in person and 1,000 that voted by mail.”
Prognosticators are predicting very high turnouts nationwide in the general election that features President Donald Trump taking on former vice president Joe Biden, and Ogle believes the numbers here will be high too.
“I expect that our turnout is going to be a lot greater than we’ve had in past presidential elections,” she said. “I think with this many people already voting early I think we’ll surpass those numbers. If I had to guess I would say 70 to 75 percent turnout.”
Those numbers are higher than the norm, although in the past three presidential elections the county turnout has been well above 60 percent. In 2016 turnout was 64.46 percent, which was actually down from 65.4 in 2012, but both were eclipsed by the 68.34 percent turnout in 2008.
This year’s predicted higher numbers are due in large part to how much easier it is to vote, with restrictions on absentee voting largely eliminated, and early voting implemented to give people ample time to come through to vote.
“It’s different this time because we’ve never had early voting before,” she said. “You had to have an excuse to vote absentee. Now we’ve got no excuse early voting.”
Currently any registered voter can go to the Administration Building to the third floor fiscal court room that’s staffed with poll workers and vote just like they would on Election Day
“And that’s been a godsend,” she said. “Because if we had to run the absentee voting like we normally do, plus do motor vehicle licensing and real estate recording, we’d be overwhelmed. We wouldn’t be able to serve the public like we need to, so it’s been great having the voting upstairs and it’s gone very smoothly and I couldn’t be happier about the turnout.”
Although Ogle has a running count of how many people have voted, she doesn’t have any indication of who’s ahead because the system doesn’t provide a total until it’s closed out after voting ends.
“We don’t get results,” she said. “It just scans it and once we’re finished then we’ll get the tally, so we don’t know who’s up, how many votes anybody got or anything like that.”
Unlike most elections, the winner won’t be known that night because the rules have been modified to allow mail-in ballots to arrive as late as November 6, with the election certification to be completed by November 10.
Most everything else on Election Day will be different too, including the usual 10 precincts, which have been narrowed down to three “super centers” at North Hancock Elementary, South Hancock Elementary and Hancock County High School, but any county voter can vote at any of them and can’t vote at the usual ones.
“You will not vote in Hawesville or Lewisport or Pellville at your normal polling places,” Ogle said. “You won’t vote at the Catholic church or the Baptist church or the community center or the fire station. You will have to go to North Hancock, South Hancock, or the high school. Any one of those locations.”
While Ogle called this election season at times “chaotic” she said that some changes are likely to stay for future elections.
“I think we will see no excuse early voting to continue in the future,” she said. “In a community our size where we have a lot of factory employees that work 12 hour shifts and aren’t always able to go to the polls on Election Day, I think the early voting gives them the opportunity to plan ahead and to be able to vote… I think that it provides opportunities for people to be able to exercise their right to vote, so I think it’s a good thing.”