Massac County chief deputy clerk Lynn Hillebrand (seated) processes a vote-by-mail application while deputy recorder Courtney Deasel (left) and Massac County Clerk Hailey Miles observe. The first day the office can send out mail-in ballots to registered voters who have requested them is Thursday, Sept. 24, which is also the date early voting begins. Other clerk’s office employees are, but not pictured, deputy clerk Kristina Boyd and Keaton Clark, a temporary part-time employee who is helping with the election.

In some 35 days, Election Day 2020 will be here. But that one day means a lot of preparation for the Massac County Clerk’s office, especially in the year of COVID.

As of Monday, from Massac County’s 11,000-plus registered voters, the clerk’s office has received 600 mail-in ballot requests. The office will start mailing those ballots Sept. 24.

“For everyone who’s requested one, we have to have them mailed out by Oct. 5 for this first round. Anybody can still call and request one after that, but whoever’s already requested, we have to have them mailed out by then,” Massac County Clerk Hailey Miles said.

Oct. 29 is the last day the clerk’s office can receive a vote by mail application.

While voting by mail has received a lot of coverage in the year of COVID, it’s not a new concept.

“There’s a lot of people who think it’s fraudulent, but what people don’t understand is that for years they’ve had vote by mail,” Miles said. “This is just the first year we’ve been required to mail out applications.

“I don’t think people realize that if you vote in Massac County, your vote’s going to be processed in Massac County. They mail it in; we process it.”

How it works

Application requests are currently being processed in the clerk’s computer system.

“The first date we can start mailing out mail-in ballots is Sept. 24,” Miles said. “Ballots have to be postmarked by election day.”

When a vote-by-mail ballot is received by the lerk’s office, it will be marked in the computer. The ballot will then filed by its precinct. This process will take place every couple of days with election judges present, Miles said. On election night, Nov. 3, those filed-by-precinct ballots will be scanned into the voting machine so they will be tallied at the same time as day-of voting. Early-voting ballots are put through the machine by the voter after they are finished marking the ballot.

“The scanning is done by a team of election judges that has to be no less than three — two from one party and one from the other,” Miles said. “Normally on election night, three election judges are present as we scan in the mail-in ballots. What is different for this election is us having to have election judges working in the office to verify signatures on the ballot envelope once returned from the voter and mark them returned in the computer”

Ways to vote

Along with the mail-in ballot, voters still have two other options to vote — early voting and day-of voting.

Early voting begins Thursday, Sept. 24, and ends Monday, Nov. 2. It will be conducted at the Massac County Clerk’s office from 8 a.m. until noon and 1-4 p.m. Monday through Friday; on Saturday, Oct. 3, from 9 a.m. until noon; and on Saturday, Oct. 31, from 8 a.m. until noon.

On election day, Massac County polling times and places will be the same as in years past. They just may look a little different with COVID safety requirements.

“We are going to take the proper precautions at the polling places — we’ll have hand sanitizer and masks, which are being donated. There will be signs. The sign-in places will be further apart. We have plexiglass tabletop partitions. Everybody has to follow the proper guidelines,” Miles said, noting she just received the state’s polling place guidelines and will be working on that in the coming weeks.

The Illinois Department of Public Health “is suggesting that election authorities ‘provide a supply of face coverings for voters that arrive at the polling location without a face covering.’ That doesn’t mean it is a requirement that voters have to wear one, it is just a suggestion,” Miles noted.

She sees social distancing being a slight problem. “There are a couple of places where spacing will be an issue, but they’re our smaller precincts,” Miles said. “There’s two I can think of that will be difficult, so people may have to stay in their car or wait.”

The ballot

For Massac County residents, the 2020 General Election has eight categories:

• County offices. The only contested local race is for Massac County commissioner with incumbent Jayson Farmer on the Republican ticket and Gregory Dillard for the Constitution Party. Running unopposed are: Marcus Grace for Massac County circuit clerk; Joshua Stratemeyer for a four-year term as Massac County state’s attorney; Chad Kaylor for the unexpired two-year term as sheriff; and Mike Hillebrand for coroner.

• A proposed amendment to the 1970 Illinois Constitution. The proposal grants the state authority to remove its “flat tax” and impose higher tax rates on those with higher income levels and lower income tax rates on those with middle or lower income levels.

• Federal government offices of president/vice president and U.S. senator.

• Representative in Congress of the 15th Congressional District.

• Representative in the General Assembly representing the 118th District.

• Two judge vacancies to be filled for the Supreme Court Fifth Judicial District.

• Judicial retention in the Appellate Court Fifth Judicial District and Circuit Court First Judicial District.

• A local referendum proposing Massac County collaborate in discussions with the state’s remaining 101 counties, excluding Cook County, in forming a 51st state.

Mail impact

So far, the clerk’s office has received over 600 mail-in ballot requests. Comparatively, it received 157 during the 2018 election.

From past experience, Miles doesn’t think mail-in ballots will cause many problems come time for election night results.

“Usually we have them (mail-in ballots) all back by election night, there might be a couple hanging out. but it’s never enough to affect the outcome,” she said, noting the office presents the official result numbers a couple of weeks after the election when the canvass is completed.

“I think based on the vote-by-mail requests we’ve had so far, we have more doing that. I think the early voter numbers will increase, too, with the people coming in to vote,” she said.

“So I see the polls being down a little bit, but I think in the end, it’ll even out. We usually have about a 35% voter turnout.”

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