Election team handles pandemic problem well, says Clerk Septer

Tanner Runkle, a poll worker at the Huntington County Courthouse, cleans a voting machine after it was used by a voter on Election Day, Tuesday, June 2. Outfitted in masks and gloves, poll workers sanitized voting machines after every use to eliminate the possible presence of the COVID-19 virus.
Tanner Runkle, a poll worker at the Huntington County Courthouse, cleans a voting machine after it was used by a voter on Election Day, Tuesday, June 2. Outfitted in masks and gloves, poll workers sanitized voting machines after every use to eliminate the possible presence of the COVID-19 virus. Photo by Steve Clark.

Huntington County Clerk Shelley Septer says she’s proud of the way her team handled the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the primary election.

One of the biggest effects the pandemic had on the election, Septer says, was voters opting to cast their ballot through the mail rather than at a polling place. This year, the Indiana Election Commission permitted the electorate to vote absentee by mail without having to provide a reason why. The commission took this action so voters had a safe alternative to casting their ballot at a polling place, where exposure to COVID-19 could potentially occur.

This was a manner of voting that appealed to voters in Huntington County, with a total of 3,080 people opting to cast their ballots through the mail, upon requesting an absentee ballot from Septer’s office. In contrast, only 51 mail-in ballots were cast in last year’s primary election.

Septer praises her election staff for their work to process so many more ballots this year.

“The team that I put together, they did such a great job working together and it was very smooth on the whole,” she remarks.

Ultimately, the number of absentee-by-mail voters rivaled the number of voters who cast ballots on Election Day, Tuesday, June 2, which topped out at 3,207. Other voters opted to cast absentee ballots at early voting locations; a total of 1,013 people voted in this manner. In all, 7,300 people voted in Huntington County, from a pool of 24,554 voters, good for a voter turnout of 29.73 percent.

It’s a figure Septer is happy with, considering that people could have elected to stay home and not vote due to the ongoing pandemic, she notes.

“People still got out and voted,” she says. “I’m very impressed by that.”

For those voters who did cast their ballots in person, Septer says stringent cleaning measures were in effect at all six vote centers in Huntington County to eliminate the presence of the COVID-19 virus.

“We made sure that our vote locations were very sanitized with all of the PPE (personal protective equipment) that we were given from the state and some that we had purchased ourselves,” she explains. “We just made sure that everyone was safe.”

Workers at vote centers were outfitted in masks and gloves and enforced social distancing. They also cleaned voting machines after every use.

While all of Huntington County’s vote centers were appropriately staffed, Septer says many of the poll workers were new, as several longtime staffers opted to sit out this election due to the pandemic.

“They did it for their safety or their loved ones’ safety,” she says. “I appreciate that within the poll workers because I didn’t want anybody working that would have anxiety about being there or would run the risk of getting sick.”

While there was initially a shortage of poll workers, Septer says enough individuals stepped up to fill those vacancies and help the election go off without a hitch.

“That speaks volumes about the community that we live in,” she says.