Serving Monroe, Owen, and Greene Counties

Wind Down! with United Way

Democracy 2020: Understanding Voting Rights and Access

The 2020 election is taking place against a backdrop of chaos and confusion. Citizens have growing frustration about the election process and serious concerns about their rights as voters.

United Way and the IU Political and Civic Engagement Program recently hosted a special early evening edition of Wind Down! With United Way on Thursday, October 8 to discuss “Democracy 2020: Understanding Voting Rights and Access.”

Mark Fraley, Assistant Director of IU Political and Civic Engagement Program and Efrat Feferman, Executive Director of United Way of Monroe County facilitated a discussion with guest speakers Nicole Browne, Monroe County Clerk; Kylie Lewis, student organizer, Big Ten Voting Challenge; and Mary Ann Williams, Voter Services Co-Chair, League of Women Voters.

This important topic facilitated a lively discussion, covering a wide range of topics.  

Early Voting

Early voting has begun at Election Central and will be open until November 2. According to Clerk Browne, Monroe County saw 899 people on the first day of early voting.  

Lewis encouraged people to vote early on a day when you have a large chunk of time to devote to it. Voting on Election Day can involve very long lines, and you might have to leave without voting if you need to go to class, work, or another commitment.  

The more people who vote early, the shorter the lines will be on Election Day, which helps keep the system from being overwhelmed, explained Williams.

“It’s better for the whole system if we get in there early,” she said.  

Absentee Ballots

You are able to request an absentee ballot until Thursday, October 22. According to Clerk Browne, as of October 8, Monroe County had received 12,688 absentee ballot requests.  

Unlike the primary in June, state officials did not extend the no-excuse absentee ballot in response to COVID-19. This means, to request an absentee ballot, you must have an accepted reason.  

If you are voting by mail, Clerk Browne stressed the importance of being timely. Ballots should be mailed back no later than one week before Election Day, but she encouraged voters to give their ballots two weeks to arrive.  

If you have already requested your absentee ballot, you cannot vote in early voting, explained Clerk Browne. However, you do have the options to return your completed and sealed ballot to Election Central before the election or vote in person on Election Day.  

Student Voting

There are many options for student voting, including voting in your university’s county, voting in person in your home county, or voting by mail. Lewis explained that voting as a student can be complicated, and this could be made worse by COVID-19-related stressors.

No matter what your situation is, Lewis stressed how important it is to have a plan. She encouraged healthy people to vote early as soon as you can to avoid future complications with COVID-19 exposure.  

“That stress is something you have to be prepared to deal with before it happens,” she said.  

COVID-19 Safety Measure

This is an election like no other, as we are still in the middle of a global pandemic. Clerk Browne ensured that Election Central and polls on Election Day will be safe and clean.  

Some health and safety measures include capacity limits, social distancing, frequent cleaning and PPE use, and the state-wide mask mandate. To put some minds at ease, Clerk Browne said that Governor Holcomb has stated that there are no cases of COVID-19 in the state that were contact traced back to the primary election in June.  

“I feel very confident that Monroe County voters can be assured they will have a safe and positive experience,” she said.  

Anyone who is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, has been exposed to someone confirmed to have COVID-19, or who has tested positive for COVID-19 should not vote in person.  

While the travel board does allow homebound people to vote, they cannot risk exposure to COVID-19. Clerk Browne and other Indiana clerks have requested that anyone in an assisted living home who has tested positive can have their vote recorded by a staff member, with distanced supervision from the travel board. This request, however, has not yet been approved.  

Voter Suppression

“I would say voter suppression is any item or activity or obstacle that gets in the way of fair and safe voting,” said Williams. 

Lewis echoed this, explaining that there are aspects of our voting system that disenfranchise certain populations. She said that the best way to fight against voter suppression is to be aware, educate others, and advocate for change.  

“Voting is one of the most fundamental things to keep democracy alive,” she said.  

Both Williams and Clerk Browne encouraged people to call Election Central at (812) 349-2612 if you experience any issues with voting.

Voter Turnout

According to Williams, in 2018, Indiana ranked 38 out of 50 states in voter turnout.

Lewis explained that many people justify not voting with their belief that their vote will not matter, but she encourages people to vote anyway.

“There is still empowerment in taking the time to go and express your voice and participate in democracy,” she said.  

Fraley echoed this, expressing that voting can be about more than whether or not your vote matters.  

“The very act of voting says, ‘I matter, and I’ve got my eye on you,’” he said.  

To engage with this topic further, watch the full Wind Down! with United Way video here, or explore the resources listed below




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Wake Up! with United Way is a collaborative project of United Way of Monroe County and IU’s Political and Civic Engagement Program, with thanks to The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce and the Bloomington Board of Realtors for series support.
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