Local clerks of court in northeast Indiana are going to forge ahead with new plans for the primary election, which was postponed until June 2 due to COVID-19. The change was announced jointly by Gov. Eric Holcomb and Secretary of State Connie Lawson, who oversees the state's elections Friday morning.

While details about the June 2 primary and the calendar that surrounds it are being worked out by state officials, it means local clerks are going to have to juggle their work that has been going on most of the year as they worked to conduct a presidential primary on May 5.

"You're looking at totally rewriting our election plan for June 2," Noble County Clerk Shelley Mawhorter said.

Mawhorter said she got the impression that the new June 2 date was firm, but everything else about the election is more tenuous. The May date seemed more and more unrealistic, especially after the announcement on Thursday that schools would be shut until May 1.

Steuben County Clerk Tangi Manahan agreed with the decision.

"I think it's the safest option and I hope that we're in a better place a month later," Manahan said. "I'm happy with the decision. It's the safest thing we can do for our community."

Counties will now have to redo work that had already been set in stone, like confirming that polling places — churches, libraries, schools and fire stations — will be available and if they are still willing to host out of virus concerns. The same holds true for poll workers, many of whom are in the more susceptible age group for risk with COVID-19.

“We’ll just have to contact our poll workers and update them," said LaGrange County Clerk Bonnie Brown. "We’ll be fine and we’ll just have to work with it. I think it’s a good thing because the average age of poll workers is 72."

Brown said she had already been preparing to have extra supplies on hand to keep polling places as safe from the virus as possible.

"We’ve stocked up on hand sanitizer, we got plastic gloves, we’ve got disinfectant wipes for them, so as long as we take the precautions we need to," Brown said.  "LaGrange County’s voting system is all touch screen so the clerk’s office is looking at methods to use to machines without touching them, such as using a pencil or Q-tip to touch the screen. We’re still exploring all of that.”

Mawhorter and other clerks have already been encouraging voters to consider mail-in ballots and that will continue. But even that creates new issues for Election Day, since mail-in ballots have to be counted by hand, and if the county receives thousands it could take hours to accurately count them.

Mawhorter hopes that if the state plans to push back to June 2, that it then commits to the date and doesn't come back and, for example, delay another month to July.

"They have to take a step back and say we've moved it to June 2, so now we have to make June 2 work," she said.

Even later dates start to push into the presidential nominating process as Democrats and Republicans are set to hold their nominating conventions in July and August.

DeKalb County Clerk Holly Albright is urging people to vote by mail.

"The DeKalb County Election Board and staff are working to ensure that our citizens have the ability to exercise their right to vote. We have been working through several scenarios this past week about how to conduct this primary election during this public health emergency. At this time, we are encouraging our citizens to take advantage of the opportunity to cast their ballots by mail," Albright said in a prepared statement.

People who choose to vote by mail may do so online through the state, indianavoters.in.gov, or through local clerks' offices. Their websites are: DeKalb, co.dekalb.in.us; LaGrange, lagrangecounty.org; Noble, nobleco.squarespace.com; and, Steuben, co.steuben.in.us.

If people do not have internet access, they may call their clerks offices at: DeKalb, 927-9787, ext. 6; LaGrange, 499-6368; Noble, 636-2736; and, Steuben, 668-1000, ext. 2220.

Manahan said the response to her invitation to the public to vote by mail has been excellent since it was publicized in the newspaper on Wednesday.

KPC Media Group staff members Steve Garbacz, Dave Kurtz, Mike Marturello and Patrick Redmond compiled this report.

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