By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
A substantial increase in absentee ballots are arriving via mail – and “early” votes through the front door – at the Canadian County Election Board, which faces unprecedented challenges during this presidential election year.
Meanwhile, voter registration applications have been pouring into the county’s election board office in El Reno with less than five weeks until the Nov. 3 general election.
In the year of COVID-19, more voters are choosing to forego long lines at their polling precincts by either “early in-person voting” at the election board office or by “mail absentee ballots”.
“This has been overwhelming and unbelievable,” Canadian County Election Board Secretary Wanda Armold said. “My staff and part-time help from the county have been here until seven or eight o’clock every night.”
Regular hours at the Canadian County Election Board office, 200 S Bickford in El Reno, are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
“We finally got 10,000 absentee ballots in the mail as of Friday and 400 more that came online this morning,” Armold said Monday afternoon. “We had so many ballots come in the mail this morning I had to get help carrying them to the car.”
Many Canadian County voters have been coming to the county election board office to return their completed absentee ballots in person. This is allowed for any registered voter who is not physically incapacitated.
“You can hand them to us over the counter and we document that,” Armold said. “We stamp them ‘received’ and show who received them and that we did, in fact, see their ID.”
During the last presidential election in 2016, the Canadian County Election Board mailed out 5,648 ballots and 4,933 ballots were completed and mailed back.
With 10,000-plus ballots already mailed out to Canadian County voters for the Nov. 3 election, Armold didn’t want to predict how many people will end up voting mail absentee.
“Who knows what they’re thinking about doing?” she said. “Some people are afraid to get out. And some are afraid their ballot’s not going to get counted, if they don’t go to polls and vote in person.”
REGISTERING TO VOTE
Voter registration applications have steadily poured in, presenting another challenge for county election personnel.
There were 84,275 registered Canadian County voters on Sept. 1. Four weeks later, this Monday, there were 85,733 – an increase of 1,458.
Canadian County’s voter breakdown by political party is: Republican, 52,332; Libertarian, 670; Democrat, 19,223: and Independent, 13,508.
The county election board processes about 100 voter registration applications daily. This includes new registrations, address changes and political party changes.
“We get a box-full delivered by UPS every Monday morning,” Armold said. “And then, our mailbox is stuffed completely full of envelopes that have voter registration forms in them.
“And then, people are walking in the front door wanting to register to vote. A lot of them say, ‘This is the first time I’ve ever voted’.”
The Canadian County Election Board must continually process voter registration documents.
“We are trying to get those in, get them filed and make more packets so we can mail out more absentee ballots,” Armold said.
Election board officials must clear another hurdle – lining up enough precinct workers for the Nov. 3 election.
And that’s no simple task.
“Some of them have either sick family with COVID or church family with COVID and they’re ‘up in the air’,” Armold said. “It’s just kind of crazy. 2016 was pretty busy and 2008 was pretty crazy, but I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.
“The number of ballots we have right now and all that we are working on, I need a building that’s twice as large as what I have.”
The Canadian County Election is seeking a grant to help cover 2020 election-related expenses, including increased personnel costs, supplies and postage.