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Voting by mail: the preferred (and safe) way to vote in the primary

Voters in Marion County are encouraged to vote by mail for the primary election June 2 because of the COVID-19 health crisis.

State officials delayed the primary — which was supposed to happen May 5 — and county officials used the extra time to implement a wide-ranging vote-by-mail system, which has traditionally been reserved for voters who couldn't make it to a polling place.

Those restrictions have been relaxed so voters don't need a reason to vote absentee. The Marion County Election Board has mailed absentee applications to registered voters.

VOTING BY MAIL

Health officials have warned that large gatherings on Election Day could further the spread of COVID-19, so voting by mail is preferred.

Registered voters should have already received an application to request a ballot. If you haven't received an application, you can find it at indy.gov/activity/vote-absentee-ballot, or you can contact the county election board at 317-327-5100 or elections@indy.gov.

The election board must receive the application in the mail by 11:59 p.m. May 21. You can also hand deliver the application to the Election Service Center, 3737 E.

Washington St., or scan and email it to elections@indy.gov.

Voters with internet access can also apply for an absentee ballot online through the state. Visit indianavoters.in.gov, click "Apply Online/Get Forms," "Visit My Voter Portal" and then fill in your information. From there, click "Absentee Voting" on the left and then "Vote By Mail" to complete the application.

You can also check your voting status at the same website.

This is just the application to get an absentee ballot. The ballot will still be sent through the mail.

Once you get your ballot, complete it, put it in the return envelope provided, and mail it back. Ballots can also be hand delivered to the Election Service Center.

Ballots must be returned by noon June 2 to be counted.

IS VOTING BY MAIL SAFE?

The fraud rate when voting by mail is essentially zero. Just as officials can't guarantee beyond a shadow of a doubt that in-person voting is safe from tampering, no one can truly say voting by mail is 100% fraud-proof.

But the fact remains voting by mail is safe and secure.

Mail-in voting is already the primary method of voting in five states, and 28 other states give voters the right to vote by mail without needing a reason.

In 2018, according to the Election Administration and Voting Survey, more than a quarter of voters across the country cast their ballots by mail, totaling more than 31 million people.

In Marion County, ballots are stored in a vault at the Election Service Center and then opened on Election Day and fed through a voting machine to count the votes.

This is a bipartisan process, according to Marion County Clerk Myla Eldridge, with a Democrat and Republican opening the sealed envelopes. Only certain people are allowed access to the vault.

There's also very little room for tampering or other fraud.

"This is like the brain center of the election," Eldridge said. "This is where everybody reports on Election Day. There's so many people inside this building, it would be so difficult."

And, Eldridge said, if you have doubts, call the election board and set up a time to go to the center. It's still open to the public, though some restrictions are in place to maintain social distancing.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

YOU CAN STILL VOTE IN PERSON

Though it's not recommended, you can still vote in person.

Marion County will have three early voting sites:

• Beech Grove High School, 5330 Hornet Ave. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. May 26-29 and 11 a.m.-7 p.m. May 30-31

• Broad Ripple High School, 1115 Broad Ripple Ave. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. May 26-29 and 11 a.m.-7 p.m. May 30-31

• Indianapolis City-County Building, 200 E. Washington St. 8 a.m.-5 p.m. May 26-29, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. May 30-31 and 8 a.m.-noon June 1

There will be 22 locations for in-person voting on Election Day. Voting lasts from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visit vote.indy.gov for a list and map of voting locations.


Groups try to ward off 'tsunami' of new evictions once moratorium ends
Those who work in housing advocacy say the current health and economic mess haven't brought out any new issues in housing; the global pandemic and financial collapse are just worsening what was already there. Many in Indianapolis never had that stable of housing to begin with.

"It's not new," said Leah Humphrey, who's part of the group Homes for All Indy. "The pandemic is highlighting a lot of it. Black and brown people have always gone through housing discrepancy and discrimination."

Histories of redlining, disinvestment (plus reinvestment to spur gentrification) and discrimination in general mean housing has always mattered in the big picture.

If you live near White River south of 38th Street, your life expectancy is about 70 years,

according to census data. But if you live just north of there, on the other side of 38th Street, life expectancy improves by 10 years.

Homes for All Indy, which is attached to the Kheprw Institute and part of a national coalition, is working on solutions to problems advocates fear will pop up June 5 when the state's moratorium on evictions is set to expire.

As an organizer with Indy10 Black Lives Matter Indianapolis, Humphrey said one way she can help renters is to dip into that group's emergency fund, which she said has close to $30,000 in it.

When the moratorium is lifted, it's Black renters — especially those with lower incomes — who will likely be among the hardest hit.

"There are two pandemics happening," Humphrey said. "... Black and brown folks are experiencing a different pandemic than white and Asian folks."

Pressure is also building to develop a statewide approach to protect renters. The state already has the Hardest Hit Fund to help homeowners, but that's only part of the equation in a place like Marion County, where, according to census data, only a little more than half of the people own their home.

"We're in this crisis where people didn't do anything wrong," Amy Nelson, executive director of the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana, said. "They lost their job because of a pandemic. Now they're at a significant risk of homelessness, getting an eviction notice, all because of a pandemic."

Indiana's moratorium on evictions was originally set to expire May 5, but Gov. Eric Holcomb extended it.

The difference between early May and early June isn't that significant, though, according to Andrew Bradley, policy director for Prosperity Indiana.

The state is opening slowly. By June 5, as long as certain health indicators are on track, Indiana will be in Stage 3 of reopening, which means retail stores and malls can operate at 75% capacity and social gatherings can include up to 100 people.

As soon as the moratorium is lifted, Bradley is concerned there will be a "tsunami of new evictions."

That's why Prosperity Indiana and other organizations from around the state — including the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana — are organizing to get a statewide plan to address emergency rental assistance and homelessness intervention.

The group, called the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition, wants the governor to extend the moratorium to July 25 — to match the federal moratorium — or 60 days after the state public health emergency ends, whichever is later.

The coalition began forming to oppose Senate Enrolled Act 148, which would have prevented municipalities from enforcing and regulating landlord-tenant ordinances. Holcomb vetoed the bill.

That means a new Indianapolis ordinance — which includes the creation of a hotline for tenants and requires landlords to issue a notice of rights and responsibilities — will take effect July 1.

Indianapolis could also get $8.6 million in federal money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, part of which would go to rent and utility assistance, as well as homelessness prevention.

The Metropolitan and Economic Development Committee approved the funding May 18, and it will go before the council for a full vote June 8.

Other cities in Indiana have used township relief funds to help renters, but that money tends to run out quickly, Bradley said, making it necessary to develop a statewide approach.

Along with short-term help for renters, the coalition is calling for longterm efforts to make housing more secure.

That includes using market-based incentives such as tax credits for landlords who commit to working with tenants to keep them in housing, and using federal resources to increase or maintain the health and safety of rental properties.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.


Libraries slowly reopening

Libraries are often a place for community and sharing. However, COVID-19 has changed the way libraries do business. For most, that meant closing their doors to the public.

"The whole thing about libraries is that we share, we open ourselves up to additional risks and exposure," Indiana Marion County Public Library (IMCPL) CEO Jackie Nytes said. "Traditionally, libraries have really developed a concept called 'third place'; someplace you could go other than home or work, especially if you didn't have clubs or churches you went to. They're a place to spend time and a place that is open and free, and didn't really place any limits on you. This new world we're living in right now challenges that concept."

Nytes said safety measures taken to stop the spread of COVID-19 will change the dynamic of public libraries in an effort to keep staff and patrons safe. IMCPL officials are in the process of figuring out a plan to reopen completely to the public.

"It's hard to nail exactly when we'll reopen," Nytes said. "Like everybody, we're very conscious of the need for safety and how we plan our services for patrons and staff. We're working very carefully with health and hospitals to make sure that we are absolutely on target for services."

On May 18, several library branches within Indianapolis Marion County Public Library began offering curbside pickup to allow patrons to safely check out books and other media. Patrons can put a book or item on hold online, and a staff member will bring it on a cart to you as you arrive to ensure there is no physical contact.

"Launching curbside pickup was invigorating for staff and well-utilized by patrons," Nytes said in a statement. "We are proud of our safety precautions and delighted to get materials into the hands of our neighbors. Like anything new, we are uncovering ad

justments to smooth it out — but overall it has been a success and we look forward to expanding to more branches soon."

According to Joe Backe, director of communications for IMCPL, book drop offs throughout the branches were overwhelmed on the first day of curbside services. IMCPL eliminated late fees for patrons until June 8.

To ensure the safety of IMCPL patrons and staff, all returned items will be quarantined and disinfected, according to Nytes.

When IMCPL gets the green light to reopen their branches, Nytes said social distancing measures will be enforced. Nytes expects IMCPL will have to delay events that draw a large crowd once branches are able to fully reopen, as well as limit the amount of people allowed in branches at one time, and limit the amount of time an individual is allowed to stay in the library.

"We will have to manage the number of people in our buildings at any given time to maintain social distancing," Nytes said. "We have new protocols for cleaning computers and computer mice, and making sure if people go to the self checkout that it's being cleaned between patrons, and we're making sure that we're cleaning the restrooms extra super frequently."

For many, especially individuals without internet at home, libraries provide a space to check email, fill out forms and job applications, and for students to do homework.

"For many in the population who are struggling," Nytes said, "I think this is going to be a difficult relationship for folks and their libraries. We used to say 'spend the day.' That might not work as well for a while in the future."

While there are still many unknowns about what things will look like after Marion County fully reopens, Nytes said patrons can rest assured they'll be safe at IMCPL.

"We're going to be really concerned about making sure that everything about the library is as clean and safe as it can be," Nytes said. "We are following guidance provided by the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]. When we're able to fully reopen, it will in fact be something that you can trust."

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.