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Warren County Clerk's Office sits close to downtown Bowling Green on Sept. 17, 2020 waiting for the upcoming election this November.

The 2020 presidential election is less than 50 days away, which means voter registration and absentee ballot application deadlines are nearing.

People voting in Kentucky’s general election in November will not only be voting for the next president. Voters will also be electing officials to the U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, Kentucky state representatives and various members of courts, such as district judges, circuit court judges, circuit judges for Family Court and judges of the Court of Appeals.

How does a voter request an absentee ballot?

Students have mentioned a variety of concerns about voting with an absentee ballot, from not understanding the process of requesting a ballot to COVID-19 sending students home before voting.

“My biggest concern with voting this year is there may not be as big of a turn out as there should be because of the pandemic,” said Halee Oliver, a fresh- man from Louisville. “Most students don’t know how to access an absentee ballot or simply just don’t feel like doing it.”

If the voter is from a different county than Warren, they can submit a request for an absentee ballot to be mailed to their campus address by completing an absentee application via Kentucky’s Absentee Request Portal.

If the voter is from another state, they will have to register to vote in Kentucky through the Online Voter Registration Portal, then request an absentee ballot. They can also request a ballot from their home state in order to have an absentee ballot mailed to their dorm.

For Warren County residents, normally absentee ballots may not be available, but due to COVID-19, voters are able to request an absentee ballot via the Absentee Request Portal.

The voter registration deadline for the 2020 presidential election is Oct. 5. The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 9.

Warren County Clerk Lynette Yates explained the importance of requesting your absentee ballot early, especially for busy college students.

“That way, when those first ballots go out, you’re in there and then get that ballot back to the county clerk that needs that, you know, mail it back out,” Yates said. “Don’t procrastinate. There’s the problem. That’s why the state’s cutting off this portal so early is so people will make sure they have ample time to get that ballot and get it back before the election.”

The most important factor of voting using an absentee ballot is to be timely and make sure to have the process done as quickly as possible.

“The key is that you need to just tell everyone that is requesting those ballots, don’t let them sit on your desk in your dorm room for you know, a week or so, you know, do it, make your selections and send it right back out,” said Yates.

What is the difference between mail-in ballots and absentee ballots?

While the terms are used interchangeably, absentee ballots refer to ballots that are requested and mailed to a person who cannot vote in person. Mail-in ballots refer to ballots that are mailed to all registered voters so they can vote by mail.

Only nine states are having universal mail-in voting for the 2020 presidential election. Kentucky is not one of those states, which is why individuals must request a ballot.

How long does it take to get my ballot?

Absentee ballots will be sent out to voters typically 45 days before the election after their absentee ballot application has been verified.

“When all the courts know, we actually haven’t received our ballots from the state yet, so we haven’t started mailing them out,” Yates said. “We’re supposed to get them. We were supposed to have them by this week. We don’t have them all yet, but we are hoping that we’ll be able to start sending everything out next week, so Jefferson County may be in a very similar situation.”

Warren County is still waiting to receive ballots, but once received it will only take two or three days for ballots to be making their way to voters.

“Over the next week, we will be mailing out,” Yates said. “I think we’ve got roughly 8,500 applications setting out there for the ballot. So we will get those out within two to three days of when we receive the ballot.”

What if dorms close earlier than anticipated due to COVID-19?

The possibility of dorm shutdown is the reason many students are concerned about getting absentee ballots mailed to campus. If the residence halls were to close later this semester due to COVID-19, but the desks remain open, staff will forward any mail delivered if they have a forwarding address on file. If the desks close, then the mail is not delivered to the campus.

“One concern I have about the absentee ballots being sent to campus is that we might not be on campus because of ‘corona’ and even if we are the ballots have to pass through multiple hands before they are actually delivered,” said Brianna Barley, a freshman from Louisville.

When asked about this concern, Yates mentioned that the State Board of Elections may let the county clerk cancel ballots if this issue were to occur.

“They allowed us for things like [a dorm shutdown], they allowed us to cancel that ballot,” Yates said. “Because we do have a way of tracking once you request that ballot, you got to vote that way because we can track it. This is purely speculation because the State Board of Elections makes these decisions. I’m sure the State Board of Election has a plan in place that they will make those allowances for things like that.”

What about possible mail delays?

If voters are concerned about possible mail delays, there will be drop boxes available to put ballots after filling them out. The location of the drop box has been decided by the county clerk. There will be a drop box located at the side entrance of the old Bowling Green courthouse during normal business hours on Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

“There will probably be one here at the courthouse because they have to be monitored, and I don’t want them to be left out at night under security cameras; I would rather someone be monitoring so there will be one here,” said Yates. “There will be one down at SKyPAC. Those will be there out all the time, then we may do some drop off locations scheduled throughout the county, on the weekends, something like that.”

The dropbox, when decided, will be found on the Warren County clerk website. For voters who do not want to drop their ballot off at the drop box selected by the county clerk, voters can still drop their ballot off at the post office.

Yates also stressed the responsibility of the voter to receive their ballot, fill it out and drop the ballot off, which must be done in a reasonable amount of time.

“The voter needs to take some responsibility,” Yates said. “Yeah, can’t wait till two days before the election and decide, oh, I want to vote. I’m gonna vote that ballot they sent me and then expect it to get to where it needs to go, because it’s not going to happen. So the voter has to take that responsibility.”

Yates pointed out while discussing mail delays that national issues with the postal system could make them take longer than normal like handling the pandemic and also a major general election.

“Kentucky’s mail, vote by mail, is very secure,” said Yates. “Right now with everything in our postal system, I know they are doing the best they can, but I’m sure they’re overwhelmed with this — with COVID, packaging and everything else — and now elections on top of that. There’s a lot to get mailed out. So some people feel better that they would rather know to drop it off in hand. That’s your own personal choice.”

Debra Murray can be reached at debra.murray940@topper.wku.edu. Follow her on Twitter @debramurrayy.

Debra Murray is a reporter for the College Heights Herald. She is a freshman majoring in Journalism and Political Science at WKU.