NOBLESVILLE, Ind. — More than 132,000 Hoosiers have already cast their ballots for the November election, but those ballots will not be counted anytime soon.
Some county clerks want voters to understand the influx of absentee ballots will likely mean many election results will not be known on election night.
“When will all of our ballots be counted? It's not going to be on election night. I can guarantee that,” said Hamilton County Election Administrator Beth Sheller.
Hamilton County election officials are expecting to receive tens of thousands of absentee ballots for the general election, and those ballots must be counted by hand – a process that legally cannot even begin until Election Day on Nov. 3. Sheller expects her staff and volunteers will be tallying votes at election headquarters in Noblesville until the end of election week.
“We're going to count ballots from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at least each day, and we have plans to do it Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday -- the 3rd, 4th and 5th -- for sure and possibly the 6th,” she told 13News. “So it's going to be at least Thursday night before we have unofficial results here in Hamilton County. Could be Friday.”
Based on experience, Marion County is expecting the same thing.
“It took us at least five days during the primary election for us to count absentee ballots,” said Marion County Deputy Clerk Russell Hollis, who recalls long lines of voters and a record number of mail-in ballots for the June primary. While there will be many more in-person polling locations for the general election, Hollis expects Marion County will still have a much larger number of absentee ballots than usual to count this November.
“It may take us a few days to count all the absentee ballots. It depends on how many absentee ballots we receive, and with 2020, things have been so unpredictable that it is tough to predict how many ballots we’ll receive by Election Day," Hollis said.
Marion County residents have requested more than 71,000 absentee ballots so far, and a lot more are expected before the registration deadline.
Some smaller counties think they will have results sooner.
“We plan on having all of them counted Election Night. That’s what we’re preparing for,” Hendricks County Clerk Debbie Haskins told 13News last month. “We will have additional ballot counters, so yeah, I do think we will have them in. It's going to be late but hopefully we'll have them done.”
Those plans may have to change slightly, following this week’s ruling by a federal court. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana granted a request to extend the state’s absentee ballot deadline. The ruling allows all mail-in ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 and received up to 10 days after Election Day to be counted. Prior to the ruling, absentee ballots received after noon on Election Day were set to be disqualified and not counted.
“We’ll have everything we’ve got [by Nov. 23] counted by election night, then we’ll count the rest of them ten days later along with the provisional, overseas and military ballots,” Haskins said.
State law requires county clerks to certify their election results ten days after an election. That means Indiana election offices should have final results for local, state and federal races no later than November 13.
“Most people are used to hearing results on election night, but for some races, that’s probably not going to happen this year,” Hollis said. “I think it’s important that voters understand that.”