Laramie County Clerk Debra Lee says the high number of people casting absentee ballots in the 2020 primary election means it will likely be much later before final results from the Aug. 18  primary election are tabulated than has been the case in recent years.

How much later? No one knows. But one thing is for sure, COVID-19 will have an impact one voting in 2020, both in Wyoming's upcoming primary election and again in the general election in November.

Because absentee ballots are paper ballots that are mailed into the clerk's office, it takes longer to count them then it does the normal electronic balloting that has become more common in the 21st century.

Lee says counting absentee ballots is a more labor-intensive process than many people may understand. The vote-counter has to first look at the ballot to make sure the voter has signed an affidavit. When the envelope is opened, the counter has to separate the ballot from the envelope and prepare the ballot to go through a scanner. ''It's a labor-intensive process and I anticipate it will take a considerable amount of time" Lee said on Friday.

By state law, absentee ballots cannot be counted until election day, and Lee says it will be ''all hands on deck" at her office to count the votes. As of Thursday, 10,000 Laramie County voters had asked for absentee ballots. Lee says that compares to about 1,600 voters who do so in a typical election year.

But since the August 18 primary election is still over two weeks away, the number of people voting absentee could potentially still go much higher.

Lee said it will likely add up to a much longer process for counting votes, and later results. When Lee was asked how much later, she said ''I can't venture to say.''

She added there has been some discussion among county clerks in the state as to whether final results may not even be available in election night.

In the meantime, she said, her office is encouraging people who plan on voting absentee to do so as soon as possible. She also reminded people that early voting is being held in the atrium of the county courthouse through Aug. 17

But those who cast their ballots on election day will find some changes in 2020 as well. Lee says voting stations will be socially distanced, and voters will be given plastic straws so they can avoid physically touching the voting machines, among other changes.

You can hear the entire interview with Debra Lee in the audio attached to this article.

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