Preparing for early voting: Absentee ballots go out, voting site moved

With a little more than two weeks to go, the Payne County Election Board is hard at work preparing for the Nov. 3 general election.

The first round of absentee ballots started going out the first week of October, Election Board Secretary Dondee Klein said.

Payne County had 39,393 registered voters of Jan. 15, according to the Oklahoma State Election Board. The county election board had already mailed 5,033 absentee ballots as of Wednesday, with more requests coming in.

The deadline to request an absentee ballot is 5 p.m. Oct. 27 but by that time, it might be too late to mail it and have it arrive at the Election Board in time to be counted Klein said. Someone receiving a yellow absentee ballot can hand deliver it to the election board, 315 W. 6th Ave., through Nov. 2.

It voters aren’t able to do that and are considering mailing their ballot at the last minute, it would probably be better to vote in-person during early voting, she said. This isn’t a case where it simply has to be postmarked by the deadline; It has to be in the hands of the election board by Election Day.

People who are voting absentee because of physical incapacity will receive a pink ballot that can only be returned by mail, she said. Hand delivery is not an option.

Out of 2,483 absentee ballots cast in the primary, 74 were rejected, for a variety of reasons from arriving after the deadline to not having the affidavit enclosed, filled out correctly or signed, Klein said.

She estimates 30 were rejected for arriving too late to be counted during the primary.

About 1,592 absentee ballots have already been returned to the Election Board. Some are being delivered overnight while others are taking 6-7 days so people shouldn’t count on quick delivery, she said.

Klein emphasized that she isn’t criticizing the postal service – in fact she praised local postal officials for the help they have provided – but said the system is under stress and will be handling a larger than normal volume of mailed ballots due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They’re doing what they can too,” Klein said.

Early voting, also known as in-person absentee voting, will be held 8 a.m. - 6 p.m. Oct. 29 and 30, and 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. Oct. 31 at the Stillwater Community Center, 315 W. 8th Ave.

The location has been changed for this election only.

Klein said the Community Center provides more space for social distancing and has more parking.

People should be aware that the City of Stillwater’s mask ordinance is enforced at the Community Center, so they will need to wear a face covering when they come to vote.

Occupancy in the building is limited as well, so they should expect to potentially be asked to stand in line outside.

Polling places on election day remain unchanged except for a precinct in Cushing that usually votes in the Chamber of Commerce office. That polling place has been moved to Crossway Church only for the Nov. 3 election to provide more space for social distancing.

Voters in that precinct should have already received voter ID cards listing Crossway Church as their polling place that expire after the election.

Klein wants to warn people to be wary of misinformation that circulates during elections.

“If it doesn’t come from the state or our office, don’t trust it,” she said.

Klein hasn’t personally seen it in 26 years of working elections, but has heard of social media posts and post cards directing people in other areas to the wrong voting location or misleading them in some way.

She has two words for anyone who sees information about voting that doesn’t make sense or that concerns them: “Call us.”

People will find information about voting, including sample ballots, at elections.ok.gov and can direct questions to the Payne County Election Board at 405-747-8350.

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